LACOMBE — School district officials, Lacombe Fire Department officers and insurance adjustors were expected to enter the fire ravaged Lacombe Composite High School this morning to survey damage and possibly determine when classes could resume.
A fire erupted on the roof shortly before 1 p.m. on Monday, just after 800 students had returned to classes at the school that was in the final stages of a more than $20-million, three-year refurbishing project.
No one was injured in the blaze, which broke out in a construction area in the northeast section of the building that has more than 50 support staff.
Wolf Creek School District superintendent Larry Jacobs said classes would resume when it’s deemed safe. “We’re just going to take it a day at a time for now,” said Jacobs during a flurry of phone calls.
Black smoke could be seen from as far away as the intersection of 67th Street and Hwy 2 near Red Deer.
More than 25 firefighters from the City of Lacombe, Town of Bentley, Lacombe County and Nova Chemicals Corp. responded.
Jacobs said a roofing crew had been working on the roof earlier in the day.
A six-man crew from Skyline Roofing Ltd. in Red Deer was just returning from a quick lunch when they spotted the smoke.
Jacobs said once a determination is made of the damage, the school district will immediately post the information on its website and inform various media outlets.
“We’ll have crews ready to go in as soon as possible to clean up,” Jacobs said.
He also said school officials were calling parents of absent students to make sure they hadn’t been at the school and were accounted for.
He will also talk to the staff to determine how best to handle the students in terms of classes.
Lacombe Mayor Judy Gordon said the city will respond in any way possible.
She said the Lacombe Memorial Centre and other city facilities, including the arena and curling rink, could be made available if emergency classrooms are needed.
Jacobs said another concern is that all the school supplies and students’ equipment such as books, calculators and even sports equipment was left in the school.
He said the district’s other schools are mostly full so that is a concern if the school is closed for more than a few days.
A high school football game Monday involving Lacombe and Wetaskiwin was cancelled. Lacombe is also to play host Friday to Camrose.
Jacobs also said there’s some fear of fire damage in the building.
Jacobs, who was just driving near the school when he saw smoke around 1 p.m., said he noticed the students filing out of the school in an orderly fashion and assembling in the football field east of the school.
“The staff did a great job of getting the students out and marching off to the field a safe way from the school,” Jacobs said.
“I’m extremely pleased with the way the staff handled the situation.
Jacobs said the fire was ironic because only earlier that morning he had discussed worst case scenarios with some people should a fire strike any of the district’s schools.
Lacombe city deputy fire chief Bob Hogarth said firefighters checked the building to ensure no one was inside.
An educator for 40 years Jacobs said one of his first thoughts when he spotted the smoke was his own son, who is a Grade 12 student at the school.
“He’s over there so I know he’s safe,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs requested that none of the students be interviewed for fear of false information being circulated.
He said the biggest concern is the structural integrity of the school, which houses students in Grades 10 to 12 from all over Lacombe County.
He said there will be significant smoke and water damage, not only from the firefighters but from the school’s sprinkler system.
The Lacombe Fire Department’s tower truck poured thousands of litres water onto the roof from the south area of the school while other crews poured water on the fire from the western section.
The spraying stopped about an hour after the breakout but resumed again in about 30 minutes when more fire was spotted in the sub roof.
Lacombe Police Services Chief Gary Leslie said the Skyline crew was being interviewed by his officers.
He said the investigation was naturally in its infant stages and no determination of the cause had been made a few hours after the fire broke out.