School mopping up after blaze

As a small army of disaster restoration workers were busy cleaning up water and soot damage in Lacombe Composite High School on Tuesday, school officials were already working out plans to get students back behind desks.

The Lacombe Fire Department’s aerial ladder truck pours water onto the roof of Lacombe Composite High School Monday.

The Lacombe Fire Department’s aerial ladder truck pours water onto the roof of Lacombe Composite High School Monday.

As a small army of disaster restoration workers were busy cleaning up water and soot damage in Lacombe Composite High School on Tuesday, school officials were already working out plans to get students back behind desks.

Wolf Creek Public Schools superintendent Larry Jacobs said staff are hoping to get students back in school by early next week.

It may be possible to squeeze as many as half the school’s 800 students into 15 to 20 undamaged classrooms at the high school and remaining students will be divided among other Lacombe schools.

“It looks like by early next week we will have our students back in schools. Right now we’re just working out the logistics on how we move our students around to different subject areas and that kind of thing,” said Jacobs.

Details on who goes where are still being worked out. Other options, such as using the Lacombe Memorial Centre or other spaces are also being considered.

Parents will be notified of where to send their children through a dial-out system, and general information will be available on the Wolf Creek website and through local media.

Students and staff were evacuated safely from the high school about 1 p.m. on Monday when fire was spotted on the roof in an area where a roofing crew had been working earlier in the day.

More than 25 firefighters from the City of Lacombe, Town of Bentley, Lacombe County and Nova Chemicals Corp. responded to the blaze.

The heat caused a number of windows to blow out and tripped the sprinkler system in about 20 per cent of the school.

Jacobs was expecting the worst when he arrived to tour the damage on Tuesday, he said, in a cellphone interview as he stood in a flooded administration office. But even in areas where the sprinkler system had gone off, it was not as bad as he had feared.

“We didn’t have as much damage as originally anticipated. So that was heartening.”

While it could have been worse, the damage is considerable.

“When I came in the building this morning the main problem was the water all over the place and there was some soot on walls and what not from the smoke. Some of the tiles had fallen off the ceiling and down on the floor and washed around in the building.”

Water from both the sprinkler system and fire hoses ran down walls and flowed to parts of the school far from the fire point. Some areas, where water ran down the walls, suffered more damage.

Fortunately, the fire did not break through the roof into the school itself. “Right close to where that fire was at there on the roof there were huge sprinkler systems that managed to hold the fire back.”

The school’s concrete construction means painting, rather than replacing drywall, will be needed.

About 40 to 50 workers were inside Tuesday afternoon. Power vacuums to suck up water and large fans for drying were in place.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Lacombe fire chief Daryl Friesen an independent investigator hired by Wolf Creek’s insurance company was not available until today (WEDNESDAY) to go through the building to determine the cause of the fire and compile a damage estimate.

“Lacombe fire department will be working with the (insurance) investigators so that we both come up with the same determination,” he said. “Since they have someone coming out right away we’re going to work with them right from the beginning.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com