It happened in Classroom 17 at Albert Biella Elementary School in Santa Rosa just before 10:30 Wednesday morning, while the third-grade students were away for an assembly. Sixty-one-year-old volunteer and retired teacher Phyllis Liu was melting wax on a hot plate in preparation for a holiday candle-making project when the wax apparently overheated and caught fire.
"She started the fire somehow with the candle wax; it ignited and she tried to take it out the front door," Santa Rose Fire Department Capt. Robert Strattom said.
Students alerted a teacher to the smoke coming from the room.
"He went in to put out the fire, first by putting an Igloo ice chest cover over it just to keep the supply of oxygen down and finally grabbed a kid's sweatshirt to douse the rest of the fire," Principal Winnie Hogoboom said.
Liu was taken to a local hospital with first and second degree burns on her right side. There was only minor damage to the classroom from the fire. As a precaution, all students at the school were evacuated for a time, but no one else was injured.
Because of the incident, the Santa Rosa School District will look at prohibiting candle-making projects in classrooms going forward.
"The fire department was recommending that candle-making in classrooms isn't such a good idea, I can say with confidence we won't be doing another one here," Hogoboom said.