Investigators seek answers in Crestline Elementary fire

It will be at least a week before a cause is determined

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



 Photo Gallery: Crestline Elementary fire

Read the earlier stories

Crestline students to attend other Evergreen schools

Fire displaces 500 Crestline Elementary students

Students’ new assignments

Students displaced by the fire at Crestline Elementary School will return to class on Thursday and spend the rest of the school year at five other elementary schools, said Carol Fenstermacher, spokeswoman for Evergreen Public Schools. The announcement was made at 4:16 p.m. Monday.

Students and their teachers will be housed at the following schools:

Kindergarten: Mill Plain Elementary School, 400 S.E. 164th Ave.

First grade: Ellsworth Elementary School, 512 S.E. Ellsworth Road.

Second grade: Columbia Valley Elementary School, 17500 S.E. Sequoia Circle.

Third grade and students in the Academic Learning Center (ALC): Riverview Elementary School, 12601 S.E. Riveridge Drive.

Fourth and fifth grades: Fircrest Elementary School, 12001 N.E. Ninth St.

Crestline students will remain with their current teacher and classmates.

Students who normally ride the bus to Crestline Elementary School will be picked up at the same bus spot as before, but five minutes earlier. Students who have not ridden the bus in the past will be contacted by Evergreen Public Schools’ Transportation Department with information on the bus pickup location. All students will be transported to Mountain View High School to board a bus for their specific school.

Crestline students who are part of the EXCEL (highly capable) pullout class will now attend the EXCEL class at Evergreen Public Schools’ Flex Academy. Transportation will be provided from the student’s home. The EXCEL pul-out class will remain on Tuesdays. Students in the New Comers Center will be moved to Burnt Bridge Creek Elementary School.

Crestline Elementary School

13003 S.E. Seventh St.

District: Evergreen Public Schools

Neighborhood: Cascade Park

Opened: 1973

Construction: Brick exterior, blue metal mansard overhang

Building size: 43,995 square feet

Total classrooms: 22

Property size: 11 acres

Students: 498 children in K-5th grade

Staff: About 50

Investigators began sifting through the debris of what remains of Crestline Elementary School on Monday morning. Officials said it might be at least a week before a cause and origin are determined, said Capt. Scott Willis, Vancouver Fire Department spokesman.

"The Vancouver Fire Department is not calling it arson at this time," he said.

Fire investigators could not begin work Sunday due to the amount of debris still smoldering. On Monday morning, investigators from the Vancouver Fire Department and Vancouver Police Department, and officials from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Evergreen Public Schools were on the scene to begin the investigation. Assistant Fire Marshal John Gentry is the lead investigator. No damage estimates are available yet, but officials said the building will be a total loss.

At 3:17 a.m. Sunday, a fire was reported at Crestline Elementary School. When neighbors called 911 reporting that they saw smoke, the response was upgraded from a fire alarm to a full structure fire, Willis said.

Firefighters who arrived at the school called a second alarm, doubling the amount of apparatus initially dispatched.

At about 4:25 a.m., the fire was upgraded to a three-alarm fire. In all, 9 fire engines, 3 fire trucks, 2 battalion chiefs and several safety personnel -- 38 total personnel -- were at the scene.

Early reports from the fire investigators stated that they didn't believe the school had any fire sprinklers in the attic space. New reports released late Monday afternoon stated the attic space did have fire sprinklers.

Investigators are looking into the possibility of the fire starting in the mansard overhang, a large void space that ran around the entire building, and by the time the fire reached the attic, it was too large for the sprinkler system to overcome.

"A large void space can take a long time to fill up with smoke," Willis said. "It can burn for a long time before it's noticeable from the outside. By that time, the fire can be large."

Willis explained that after a house fire, investigators clear out debris, put it in a tub, dump it outside and look through the contents as they look for clues. In a house fire, investigators empty the room to find clues about where and how the fire started.

When investigating a fire in a large building, such as a school, the method is the same, but on a much larger scale. A heavy equipment operator scoops debris with a trackhoe, dumps it out and investigators sift through each scoop looking for clues.

"It's going to take quite a bit of time," Willis said.

No fire engines or trucks remained at the site on Monday. Fencing is being installed to keep people out.

"Vancouver Fire Department and Vancouver Police Department are working in conjunction, which is normal," Willis said. "They'll work together until they can determine a cause."

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515;; Twitter: col_schools.