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Sprinkler system floods Meeteetse library

More than 4,400 books were ruined and a school day canceled after a sprinkler system erroneously flooded a portion of the Meeteetse library on Sunday afternoon.

The damage at the Park County-run library — located inside the Meeteetse school — was generally limited to a section containing Western novels and non-fiction books, along with a nearby school classroom (see photos at the bottom of this article).

Meeteetse Assistant Principal Cory Dziowgo said the fire suppression system worked like it’s supposed to. Unfortunately, the system had been activated in error by a malfunctioning heating unit.

“There wasn’t an actual fire, it just overheated,” Dziowgo said.

Park County Library Director Frances Clymer said the roof-mounted unit began pouring hot air into the library and the sprinkler valve closest to the air vent broke open.

“Then it spewed, I believe, over 1,000 gallons of water into the building,” Clymer said.

That wasn’t because of a slow response time.

Dziowgo — who also is a member of the Meeteetse Volunteer Fire Department — said the firemen had the sprinklers shut off within five to 10 minutes of the system tripping.

Clymer praised Park County Buildings and Grounds, the Meeteetse school district facilities crew and Varney Clean Care for their prompt response after the flooding.

“They really got a handle on it very quickly,” Clymer said. “I was real impressed with their responsiveness.”

Unfortunately, there’s not much to be done for soaked books, and most of the tomes that became wet or damp can’t be salvaged, she said.

The library is still doing a count to see how many books were lost, but on Thursday an estimate pegged the loss at about 4,450 items.

The Meeteetse library had about 18,900 books prior to Sunday’s incident plus about 3,000 other items.

“It (the loss) was a substantial amount of non-fiction material and the Western novels — Louis L’Amour, those guys,” Clymer said, but, “it was really isolated to that one section.”

She did not believe there were any irreplaceable books lost to the sprinkler deluge, but said some may be difficult to replace and that the whole process will take time.

The plan is to re-open the Meeteetse library (without the ruined books) on Monday, March 4.

Between now and then, library staff in Meeteetse will not be able to do any interlibrary loans or transfers.

“They’re pretty much on notice to just do what they can to clean up the mess,” Clymer said.

School in Meeteetse was canceled Monday while cleaning and electrical crews dealt with the aftermath of the dousing.

“We had to make sure the school was safe, because there were electrical issues we had to check,” Dziowgo said.

Clymer surveyed the damage that morning, and it wasn’t easy.

“There’s this Dumpster full of swollen, damaged books, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh — look at all those,’ and some of them were, you know, ‘Oh I would have read that’ or ‘Oh dear, look at (that), we lost that one,’” she said. “That kind of thing happened.”

School resumed Tuesday — the canceled day will be made up Friday — and Dziowgo said there were no lingering smells or anything like that.

“Back to normal,” he said.

The property and facility were insured, though details were not immediately available.

Editor's note: This version updates the number of lost books from more than 1,000 to roughly 4,450 to reflect new estimates.

All the photos provided below are from Clymer.

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