Sonora El fire could disrupt classes for weeks

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

A fire at Sonora Elementary School that burned Saturday night destroyed multiple classrooms and rendered more than a dozen unusable, which will disrupt classes and schedules for weeks.

Sonora School District Superintendent Leigh Shampain said on Sunday

afternoon that the school can't use 15 classrooms because of heat, smoke

and fire damage from the blaze.

About eight of those rooms are likely

out of commission for at least the rest of the year, while Shampain said

school leaders believe the remaining rooms could be safe to use in the

coming weeks after crews thoroughly clean and decontaminate them.

"This is huge," he said of the fire's effect on the school. "This is going to be disruptive to a lot of people."

Fire and law enforcement crews first responded to the fire at

approximately 9:43 p.m. after it tripped the school's alarm system.

Firefighters had the fire contained by 11:48 p.m. and under full control

at 5:28 a.m. Sunday, Sonora Fire Chief Mike Barrows said. No one was

injured in the fire.

It burned through and destroyed much of the school's F building, and

smoke from the fire also damaged the school's E and D buildings, all of

them containing classrooms. Fire and maintenance crews will still on the

scene Monday morning, and both Shampain and Barrows said an estimate on

the extent of the damage - including whether the F building's

structural integrity - could take days.

"It depends on what they find in the building as they go through it," Barrows said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Barrows said. According

to school officials, the school's burglary alarm was also activated

during the incident. Barrows declined to comment Sunday on whether this

could be an arson case, but he said the investigation will look at the

cause and origin location of the blaze.

"I can't make any further comment on that," he said.

Charred and smoke damaged desks, school supplies and building materials

were stacked and strewn about the school's central courtyard as the

cleanup began Sunday. The smell of smoke was detectable throughout the

halls, and some smoke damage was visible on the roof.

School is out through the end of the week for Thanksgiving break. But

Shampain said administrators are working on a plan to allow the students

to continue class at the Sonora campus. He said they will utilize space

in the school library and other alternative classroom space to replace

the damaged rooms in the short term. He also said that kindergarten

classes for three weeks beginning Dec. 2 will be split into morning and

afternoon classes.

The school will send notes home to all the affected parents to inform them of the changes.

"We have a plan in place to house all the students that were affected," he said.

The Union Democrat
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