Harris Regional Hospital ER fire

A malfunctioning radiator heater was cited as the cause of a Tuesday fire at Harris Regional Hospital. Firefighters quickly handled the blaze.

By Dave Russell


A Tuesday fire at Harris Regional Hospital did little damage and did not lead to a major disruption of hospital services.

The call came in to 911 dispatch at 6:43 p.m. and Sylva and Balsam fire personnel were on the scene first, at about 6:50 p.m., Jackson County Fire Marshal Michael Forbis said.

The fire, confined to the emergency department, was out shortly after that, he said. Firefighters needed only a fire extinguisher to handle the blaze.

The fire was started by a heater brought in by staff.

“A radiator heater malfunctioned at the check-in area in the waiting area of the emergency room,” Forbis said. “It caught some other computer battery backups and other cords on fire underneath the desk there at the check-in area of the ER. When you come in the ER, every time those doors open cold air comes in and maybe whoever was working there was kind of cold.”

Hospital staff tried to put the fire out with a fire extinguisher but were only partially successful. The fire suppression system, which was functioning properly, did not detect enough heat or smoke to activate, Forbis said.

The Sylva Fire Department responded with mutual aid called from the Balsam, Savannah and Cullowhee fire departments. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Sylva Police Department and Jackson County Emergency Services.

“Harris EMS responded just to assist the hospital and they put all their ambulances there in case they needed to transfer people out of the Emergency Department to another area,” Forbis said. “They put Jackson County on diversion, so at that time, any medical calls that we had would have been diverted to another county until EMS was able to make sure they didn’t need to transport anybody.”

That was not necessary.

“They were able to get everybody out of the ER and isolate them in a different part of the hospital,” Forbis said.

At 7:36 p.m., Harris spokeswoman Lucretia Stargell sent an email stating “the ED is on temporary diversion at the moment as we investigate the source of the fire and evaluate any damage to our facilities.” At 8:44 p.m. in another email she said “The Harris ED Is no longer on diversion.”

Our team responded immediately, working with first responders, and evacuating patients and staff to ensure their safety,” Stargell said. “No one was injured as a result of the fire, and we were able to control it quickly. We are grateful for our first responders and our dedicated team at Harris Regional who responded swiftly and ensured the safety of our patients and staff.”