Cause of blaze remains undetermined; Savory students being relocated to other schools for up to three weeks
It remains unclear if a fire that ripped through the offices of Savory elementary Sunday morning is an arson, although the case is now in the hands of the West Shore RCMP.
Langford Fire Rescue investigators wrapped up their work at the school Monday.
“We’ll be putting our findings into a report and handing that off to the RCMP in the coming days,” investigator Lance Caven said Monday. He would not confirm if this meant the fire was intentionally set.
Meanwhile, RCMP say that a security alarm at Savory was triggered at 3:45 a.m. on Sunday, about two hours before fire alarms went off. Police aren’t sure if the security alarm is connected with the fire and couldn’t say if there was any sign of forced entry into the school.
“At this point the cause of the fire remains undetermined,” said Cpl. Kathy Rochlitz. “But we are trying to determine if the alarm call is connected with the fire.”
Police are looking for any witnesses who may have seen people or suspicious activity early Sunday morning.
Fire damage is limited to the principal’s office and administration area, but some smoke damage extends into classrooms. Starting Thursday, Savory’s 175 students will be bused to Crystal View elementary and Happy Valley elementary for up to three weeks.
The district plans to wall off and segregate the damaged offices from the rest of the school while restoration is underway. “The entire office is totally gutted and burned,” said superintendent Jim Cambridge.
Cambridge said on Monday that air quality of the school needs testing before restoration crews can assess the scope of the damage in detail.
“If we are lucky the classrooms won’t be too affected,” he said. “In the worst case, smoke damage will be in all the plastic and paper throughout the school. That will be very hard to get rid of.”
The Sooke School District’s security company called in the fire after alarm bells were tripped at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday.
Flames punched out of windows at the north side of the school, which backs onto the bridge over the E&N tracks and leads to Atkins Road. Rows of narrow windows are shattered and one shows black scars from flames.
“The guys knocked it down very, very fast,” Caven said. “The guys did a great job getting it knocked out quickly.”
Cambridge echoed that sentiment, saying the quick action of firefighters stopped the flame from spreading into the ceiling of the building, which may have meant the end of Savory elementary. The 45-year-old building doesn’t have a sprinkler system.
“If fire had got into the (frame), the school would be gone,” Cambridge said. “The firefighters did a fantastic job.”
About 20 firefighters with five emergency vehicles were on scene until about 9 a.m. As word spread Sunday, a steady stream of students and parents came to view the damage.
Parent Shawna DeCosta said her son, who is entering Grade 4, was putting on a brave face as he ran across the bridge to see his damaged school.
“He was excited about coming back to school, he got the teacher he wanted. Now that’s all put off,” DeCosta said. “It’s upsetting. It’s such a nice little school. Teachers know all the names of the kids that go here.”
The school is closed until Thursday as administrators organize a plan for relocating students and staff, and for restoration.
West Shore parks and recreation offered recreation activities for Savory kids for free for a half-day Monday and full days Tuesday and Wednesday.
“It’s wonderful. We are very happy to see this kind community support,” Cambridge said.
Anyone with information about the fire can call West Shore RCMP at 250-474-2264 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
—with files from Sam Van Schie.