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Updated Monday, February 4, 2013 at 01:43 PM

Vancouver school fire displaces 500 students

The Associated Press

Crestline Elementary School is a total loss after a three-alarm fire burned through the building early Sunday, displacing 500 students.

Evergreen School District officials hope to have them back in class Thursday at six or seven other schools that have spare room, spokesman Carol Fenstermacher said. Officials are working Monday on arrangements and transportation plans.

Crestline students were told to stay home and wait. Counseling and meals for needy students are available at East Vancouver Community Church, Fenstermacher said.

There's no dollar estimate of the loss, but Fenstermacher expected it would be in the millions.

Parts of the building where the roof collapsed were still smoldering Monday morning, Vancouver Fire Department Capt. Scott Willis said.

The school appears to be a total loss and likely will have to be torn down, he said.

The fire may have spread through the attic before it was noticed and reported at 3:17 a.m., Willis said. The 40-year-old building had sprinklers in the rooms, but not the attic.

Because the fire occurred in the early morning hours of a weekend when no one was present, it's being treated as suspicious, Willis said.

One firefighter was treated at a hospital for an undisclosed injury, said another fire department spokesman, Kevin Stromberg.

Investigators will interview witnesses and look into a report that someone was shooting off fireworks at the school on Saturday night.

Third-grade teacher Audrey Christina, who lives just three houses from the school, heard the fireworks.

"Between 8 and 9, I'm sitting at my computer and heard what I thought were gunshots," she told The Columbian. "I walked to the end of my street and realized it was fireworks. I couldn't identify the kids; it looked like there were three or four. I just turned around and walked home."

The fire was believed be the first catastrophic loss of a school in Evergreen Public Schools' 67-year history, The Columbian reported (http://bit.ly/YxrJWW).

The loss puts a strain on the district, which has no vacant buildings and schools already full of 27,000 students, Fenstermacher said. The district has 20 other elementary schools.

Crestline had 498 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and 50 staff members. It opened in 1973 in the Fircrest neighborhood. About 70 percent of Crestline students receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, Fenstermacher said.

Superintendent John Deeder and other school officials have been meeting and planning how to conduct classes for the rest of the year, she said.

Hundreds of Crestline students, parents and teachers cried and hugged Sunday as they watched from a sidewalk.

"It's really sad," said Michele Allen, 51. "I was here the first day the school opened. I was in the fifth grade, me and my brother, Michael Kunze. I had three kids who went to school here."

Rebecca Combs hugged her 10-year-old daughter, Chloe, a fifth-grader.

Combs said her daughter is in her last year at the school and is on the school council and safety patrol.

"My daughter's kindergarten teacher was my brother's kindergarten teacher and my Girl Scout leader," Combs said. "I'm really sad and upset."

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Information from: The Columbian, http://www.columbian.com


BRENT WOJAHN / AP
Smoke rises from the rubble of Crestline Elementary after an early morning fire Sunday destroyed the school in Vancouver, Wash.




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