Fire damages Head Start office

Smoke, flames slows traffic on Highway 500

By Craig Brown, Columbian metro editor

Published:

Updated: February 12, 2012, 6:41 PM

 
photoFirefighters cut a 4-foot-square vent hole in the roof of a burning building at 3509 N.E. Stapleton Road on Sunday.

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photoA house converted to office use was heavily damaged by fire Sunday.

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photoVancouver firefighters work at the scene of an office fire at 3509 N.E. Stapleton Road Sunday. The fire was knocked down in about 30 minutes.

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Vancouver firefighters pressed their two newest fire engines into service Sunday afternoon, fighting a fire that heavily damaged an old home converted to office use for part of the local Head Start program.

The fire was reported at 2:30 p.m. at 3509 N.E. Stapleton Road, on the southeast corner of Stapleton and Highway 500.

Firefighters from Engine 3 could see a column of black smoke rising from the building even before they arrived on the scene. When they got there, they saw flames shooting from the back of the building, which has a daylight basement.

Fire department spokesman Capt. Kevin Murray said the structure was unsafe to enter, so firefighters attacked it from the perimeter while another crew went to the roof and sawed a four-foot ventilation hole in the roof to draw the smoke and flames upward. Giving a fire a vertical path discourages it from spreading horizontally through the burning building, he explained.

Neighbors gathered to watch and traffic on the highway slowed to a crawl as the firefighters worked. Stapleton Road was closed until about 5:30 p.m.

Besides Engine 3, the city’s two new pumper trucks — Engines 1 and 2 — were on the scene, along with one of the city’s two ladder trucks. The new fire engines, which cost $463,000 each, recently replaced two 19-year-old pumpers.

An AMR ambulance crew stood by, but no injuries were reported.

The building had been converted to office space in 2003 and was used for several years as a chiropractic clinic. It was vacant for a time, and last summer was leased by Educational Opportunities for Children and Families. County records indicate the property is owned by Sue Blanton of Spartansburg, S.C.

EOCF is a social services agency that provides early learning programs for young children, according to its website. Among other programs, it administers the Hot Shots Youth Sports league and local Head Start programs.

Doug Lehrman, EOCF’s executive director, said the facility was used as an office for about 10 educators who provide in-home Head Start services for pre-kindergartners. The office is occasionally used for children’s play and socialization groups, but was not a day care center. EOCF operates about 25 facilities in Clark County, including several day care sites for Head Start.

“We’ll just have to find temporary office space for our staff,” Lehrman said.

He said no one was in the building at the time the fire broke out. Head Start office staff typically works Mondays through Fridays.

A fire marshal was on the scene but was unable to determine the cause of the fire. Murray said the preliminary damage estimate was $200,000 to the building and its contents.