Fire displaces 500 Crestline Elementary students

Sunday blaze destroys Crestline Elementary; plan for rest of school year may be revealed today

By Craig Brown and Dave Kern


Updated: February 3, 2013, 9:45 PM


Related story

Retired educator saw his fair share of disasters

 Photo Gallery: Crestline Elementary fire

 Photo Gallery: Your Lens: Crestline fire

Reader photos of the fire that ripped through Crestline Elementary School on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013.

You can help

• Evergreen Public Schools is asking anyone who wants to donate money for schools supplies and books to phone 360-604-4088 today. They are requesting people not send books because those selections might not fit the teachers’ needs. Cash is best, said spokeswoman Carol Fenstermacher.

Donations also can be sent to the Evergreen School District Foundation in care of Community Relations, P.O. Box 8910, Vancouver WA 98668-8910.

• Friends of Fire Station 6 President Mary Elkin said her group has partnered with Additional Self Storage to collect and distribute school supplies for the children and teachers of Crestline Elementary. Supplies needed include copy paper, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, erasers, water color paints, tissues, glue sticks, hand sanitizer, playground equipment (balls, jump ropes, etc.), markers, dry erase markers, wide-ruled notebook filler paper and wide-ruled composition books.

Supplies can be dropped off at any Additional Self Storage location.

For more information or to volunteer to help transport supplies, contact Friends of Fire Station 6 at 360-896-2808 or email friendsoffirestat...

• Cash donations and school supplies are now being accepted at the Cascade Park Burgerville, 11704 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., and the Fisher’s Landing Burgerville, 16416 S.E. McGillivray Blvd. The restaurants are planning a community fundraiser at both locations soon to benefit the school, students and teachers, said Burgerville spokeswoman Sara Perrin.

Notices from Evergreen Public Schools

Students in before- and after-school day care are offered all-day care today at the Early Childhood Center, 14405 N.E. 28th St.

School counselors will be available for students during school hours Monday at East Vancouver Community Church, 12415 S.E. Seventh St., near the school. Evergreen Public Schools is posting information on its website and Facebook page.

Fire facts

Response: This was a three-alarm fire fought by 38 firefighters. First response was at 3:17 a.m.

Equipment: Nine engines and three trucks with ladders capable of rising 100 feet. Firefighters used three hydrants.

Water power: Trucks can pump 800 gallons of water per minute.

The building: Opened in 1973. Its exterior walls were brick with a blue metal roof. Rooms had sprinklers but the attic did not, said spokesman Kevin Stromberg with the Vancouver Fire Department.

Agencies: Vancouver Fire Department; East County Fire & Rescue; Clark County Fire District 3; Portland Fire Bureau.

Also on the scene: Vancouver Police Arson Task Force; federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Vancouver Fire Marshal.

Cause: “We don’t know at this point the origin of the fire,” Stromberg said. “The investigation team says it will be at least (until today) before they can enter the building. The cause might not be known for a week.”

Quote: “This building is a total loss,” Stromberg said, as smoke billowed and flames continued to lick at hot spots at about 10:20 a.m.

More than 500 Crestline Elementary students and staff may learn Monday what will happen to the rest of their school year after a three-alarm fire destroyed their building early Sunday.

The school at 13003 S.E. Seventh St. in the Cascade Park neighborhood is closed and students are being told to not report to school today.

Sunday’s fire is believed to be the first catastrophic loss of a school in Evergreen Public Schools’ 67-year history.

Hundreds of students, parents and teachers cried, hugged, grieved and watched from a sidewalk as Crestline continued to burn hours after the fire was reported.

The cause might not be determined for a week, a fire official said. But a teacher said she saw kids lighting fireworks near the school on Saturday night.

Third-grade teacher Audrey Christina lives on Southeast 130th Court, just three houses from the school. “Between 8 and 9 (Saturday night), I’m sitting at my computer and heard what I thought were gunshots. … 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.”

She said another time, about two years ago, she complained to police about fireworks and got no response. So on Saturday night, “I didn’t bother to call.”

“I talked to the fire marshal,” she said Sunday morning.

The fire was reported at 3:17 a.m. It burned for hours, with smoke continuing to billow and fire licking at spots around the building at midmorning.

One firefighter was hurt and sent to a local hospital, where he was treated and later released, said Kevin Stromberg, a fire department spokesman. The nature of the firefighter’s injury was not disclosed.

Firefighters stayed at the scene until nearly 8 p.m. Vancouver police planned to be at the school all night.

The fire presents a complicated situation, Carol Fenstermacher, the district’s spokeswoman, said.

She said the district carries fire insurance, but it will take some time to know how much it will cost to rebuild Crestline.

And the reconstruction could take months. The district’s schools already are crowded, with 27,000 students, Fenstermacher said. There is no empty building to use and there are logistics to overcome in dispersing students to the district’s other 20 elementary schools.

Crestline had 498 students, kindergarten through fifth grade, and 50 staff members. It opened in 1973, tucked into the Fircrest neighborhood.

About 70 percent of Crest-line students receive free or reduced price breakfast and lunch, Fenstermacher said. Those students must be bused to schools where qualifying food is served.

Superintendent John Deeder said he is hoping to find solutions that send “blocks” of students — for example, all fourth-grade students and teachers — to the same school, Fenstermacher said.

Deeder and other school officials were at Crestline on Sunday morning and then met for an hour to begin planning how to resume classes, Fenstermacher said.

“We’re talking at least (through) the end of the (school) year,” Fenstermacher added.

Somber crowd

The scene was poignant on Sunday morning as firefighters continued to mop up after the fire.

“I’ve been at the school for 21 years,” said Christina, the teacher and nearby neighbor. She hoped supporters would help replace books and supplies.

“I’ve probably spent $600 to $1,000 a year for supplies for my classroom. I’m not the only one. If we could get Ikea to help, that would help tremendously,” she said. She added that many rooms were furnished with Ikea items: rugs, lamps, stools.

“We try to make our classrooms comfortable and homelike,” she said.

Then, she paused: “I have a student walking toward me … Hello sweetheart,” she said, and comforted a boy in her class. “There’s been a lot of kids who have come to comfort us, too,” Christina said.

She added this: One fifth-grade girl came to view the school, saw her teacher, ran home and brought back her math homework, “And it was 100 percent correct.”

“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.

She remembers going to Burton Elementary and, “Then we got our own school. We used to walk to school, we lived so close.”

While they watched, Rebecca Combs hugged her daughter, Chloe, 10, a fifth-grader who has attended Crestline Elementary since kindergarten.

“This is her last year here,” said Rebecca Combs. “She just got on student council. She’s on safety patrol, too.”

Rebecca Combs, 30, was raised in a military family that moved often.

“This was the first school I attended when we came back to the States,” said Combs, who attended Cres-tline for first, second and third grades.

The school has been a constant in her extended family. Her niece, Hannah Harris, 14, stood with them. Now a freshman at Mountain View High School, she attended Crestline for five years.

“My daughter’s kindergarten teacher was my brother’s kindergarten teacher and my Girl Scout leader,” Rebecca Combs said. “I’m really sad and upset.”

Craig Brown, Paul Suarez and Susan Parrish of The Columbian contributed to this story.