Fire hits school |

Fire hits school

Heather McGregor
Managing Editor

Fire chief Dave Yowell blamed a surge protector for the fire that consumed an 8th-grade math classroom at Riverside School in New Castle early Sunday.

On Monday, teacher Adriana Ayala’s students created decorations to make her temporary classroom in another wing of the school feel more homey, said principal Chuck Shupe.

“They are giving Miss Ayala hugs,” Shupe said.

“Most teachers treat their classrooms as their second home, so they take it pretty hard,” he added. Ayala lost a CD player, a Christmas tree with decorations made earlier by her students, an “apple for the teacher” collection and hours of work spent on lesson plans.

The school district lost dozens of math textbooks, enough desktop calculators for a whole class, Ayala’s computer and the room itself.

“The whole room is just toasted,” Shupe said. “The fire burned through the drywall and burned the new carpet we put in last summer.

“Everything will have to be replaced or cleaned. The whole room is black. Math series books stored on the shelves are shot.”

Yowell, chief of the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, said investigators pinpointed the fire’s start to the electrical cord used to plug the surge protector into a wall outlet. It appears that wires in the cord short-circuited, starting a fire that ignited papers stored nearby.

Shupe said the cord could have been punctured, kinked or had a chair set on it to damage the wires.

The school’s fire alarm went off at 4:50 a.m. Sunday, and volunteer firefighters arrived at the school eight minutes later. Lacking a key, they waited a couple of minutes for a school district worker to arrive.

They were about to break down the door when maintenance man John Craigmile arrived with a key.

“The whole school was full of smoke,” Yowell said.

Firefighters quickly found the fire in the classroom in the 8th grade wing on the northeast side of the building, and put out the fire using less than 100 gallons of water, Yowell said.

The fire was out by 5:15 a.m., but the nine firefighters spent another three hours ventilating the smoky building, salvaging things from the classroom and investigating the fire’s cause.

“There was no structural damage to the building,” Yowell said. “There was fire damage and water damage to the room of origin and smoke damage to the school. In that wing, all the white ceiling tiles are now a nice tan color, and the carpet holds the odor.”

Shupe said he sized up the damage Sunday morning and asked Ayala to come over to the school. Luckily, the school had an empty classroom in the 6th and 7th grade wing, so school staff cleared it out and set up desks for Ayala’s temporary classroom.

The staff rounded up fans Sunday and opened all the doors and windows in the building to flush out as much of the smoke as possible.

“We’ve still got some yucky, sooty, smoky smells through the building. You walk in and you know there’s been a problem,” he said Monday.

One student with asthma went home early, Shupe said. Otherwise, no other illness or injury resulted from the fire or smoke, he said.

He said the school district is rounding up math textbooks from other buildings. And the district will rebuild the room once insurance adjusters size up the damage.

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