Fire Destroys School Building

Classes cancelled until next week.

A private elementary school in Menlo Park will be closed until next week due to a one-alarm fire that destroyed a building on campus early Thursday morning, a fire chief said.

Firefighters were dispatched to at 50 Terminal Ave. after a fire was reported in one of the school's portable classrooms at about 3:50 a.m., Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.

Arriving units were delayed reaching the fire at first because initial reports gave them the wrong address, and they arrived about a quarter-mile away, Schapelhouman said.

The first firefighters arrived at 3:54 a.m., and found flames and smoke coming from the one of the modular school buildings, a configuration of several triple-wide trailers arranged as a single building that housed the school's administrative offices and several classrooms. Firefighters entered the building, but the battalion chief soon noticed the lightweight walls of the classroom had started to buckle and ordered everyone out of the building. Minutes later, the roof collapsed.

They continued fighting the fire from outside, but at 10 a.m., after six hours of dumping thousands of gallons of water onto the collapsed structure, it was clear that the tactic was ineffective, Schapelhouman said.

An excavator and a large forklift were used to start tearing apart the burning building, pulling the contents out of the side.

Firefighters discovered that because the roof had collapsed, certain pockets had not burned in the building, leaving some items intact like filing cabinets and computers. Some of that could be salvaged, but many administrative records were likely lost, Schapelhoumman said.

The structural damage to the fire amounted to an estimated $300,000, and the contents lost could be worth as much as $100,000. The fire started because of an electric stove in the teachers' break room and a pinched electrical cord that failed.

The other school buildings were not damaged, but power was cut to the entire school and classes will be canceled until at least next week. The destroyed building is expected to be razed and removed from the lot by Monday, and classes may resume on that day. No one was injured in the fire.

The building is intended as a temporary structure, and therefore is not required to have early alarm systems and sprinklers, which could have prevented the fire from becoming as large as it did. The school has used the modular buildings since 1986, and is looking into building a permanent structure, Schapelhouman said.

A total of 15 Menlo Park firefighters and three investigators responded to the blaze, they received assistance from the Redwood City Fire Department.


--Bay City News


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