A fire that destroyed an entire wing of classrooms at Sonora Elementary School appears to have started in a trash can full of debris that was propped under the window of a fifth-grade classroom, according to school officials.
It is just horrible, said Sonora School District Superintendent Leigh Shampain. The structural damage, the effects to the school and teachers; we had kids crying on campus the next day because their classrooms were destroyed.
Some parents and students went to the Greenley Road campus on Sunday to survey the damage from the night before. Many of the destroyed buildings looked structurally sound from the outside but were gutted by the fire.
Investigators have not released an official cause or origin of the fire, but fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Arthur said, I received a call at almost midnight that there was a fire and it started outside my classroom. I still cant believe it; its just devastating. I have been teaching for 15 years, and I had thousands of dollars worth of resources, student work everything is gone. I am still trying to process it all.
Shampain confirmed that the preliminary investigation indicates the fire started in a trash can under the window of Arthurs classroom.
Police went to the scene first because the schools burglary alarm was activated; responding officers found flames shooting out the window of the classroom.
By the time firefighters stopped the blaze, it had destroyed all eight classrooms in F building, where the fourth- and fifth-grade classes meet.
Smoke damaged seven classrooms in D and E buildings, where sixth- through eighth-graders learn.
At a special board meeting Monday, trustees decided to postpone students return from Thanksgiving vacation until Tuesday, Dec. 3, so that Monday can be used as a preparation day for teachers to work out the logistics of their new teaching environments.
For two to five weeks after returning to school, displaced classes will be moved to other areas, such as the library, art room and kindergarten classrooms. To accommodate that, the kindergartners will meet in two instead of four classrooms; there will be overlap between the morning and afternoon sessions.
The smoke-damaged classrooms, Shampain said, will be thoroughly cleaned and are expected to reopen in a few weeks.
The F building classrooms will need to be rebuilt so the classes will be without permanent facilities for at least the rest of the year. Temporary portable buildings are expected to be ready for the students and teachers when they return from winter break at the beginning of January, Shampain said.
The cost of the structural damage is expected to reach upward of $1 million, and at least $500,000 for the contents, Shampain said. The school recently had been equipped with new iPads, Apple Televisions, smartboards, projectors and other technology amounting to $50,000 a classroom.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has taken the lead on the investigation and will turn it over to the Sonora Police Department upon its completion. Sonora Police Chief Mark Stinson expects the exchange to happen later this week.
Shampain said the district already has received donated materials from the Oakdale Teachers Association and textbooks from the districts vendor.
Information about how to help Sonora Elementary School will be posted on the districts website at www.ses.k12.ca.us.