Blaze strikes Sonora school

By Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat November 25, 2013 12:03 pm

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 responded to the fire about 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 were still on the scene Monday morning, and both Shampain and Barrows said an estimate on the extent of the damage — including 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. 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.

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 Sonora school board will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. today in the school library to discuss the fire.