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Murrow HS band members lose insturments in fire — but play on to win

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Edward R. Murrow High School’s youth band members proved that they are one of the fieriest ensembles around by blazing through a music contest in Virginia a day after most of their instruments went up in flames.

A mysterious fire engulfed one of the buses transporting the group and its equipment to Richmond on May 18, forcing a dangerous nighttime evacuation on I-95.

But the undaunted band lived to play on, swept the competition, and took home three trophies, school officials say.

The combustible encounter was the stuff of nightmares, according to one Murrow High School senior who lost her piccolo in the fire — but not her wits.

“I was telling everyone to relax, but then when we heard the pop!” said Sarah Nodell, 17. “My friend yelled that the bus was on fire — and it was on fire!”

Teachers and chaperones flew into action, escorting the 40 or so students to safety.

“We were pulling these kids off the bus over the guardrail in pitch black darkness,” said Tom Toriello, assistant principal of the music program, and director of the jazz band. “The bus was engulfed with flames within 10 minutes.”

No one was hurt in the blaze, which only affected one of the group’s two buses, but thousands of dollars in instruments were lost. Luckily. A pair of good Samaritans cruising down the highway in empty buses spotted the forlorn virtuosos and pulled over to give them a ride to their hotel.

The next day, the school’s symphonic and jazz bands, and the madrigal choir, played and sang up a storm on borrowed instruments, each taking home first prize, in addition to a well-deserved “esprit decor” award for superior morale.

The flames only fueled their desire to win and take home some explosive bragging rights, said Matan Uchen, 17.

“It was like we had to show that we were the best,” said the Gerritsen Beach senior. “It was like, ‘Come on, we survived a fire and we beat you guys’ — we’re awesome.”

It remained unclear what sparked the fire, which was not considered suspicious, by Monday evening.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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