UNION TWP. — The start of the school year for Northwest Area secondary students is in doubt after a fire at the middle/high school Saturday afternoon caused significant damage to classrooms on the second floor, officials say.
Barry Shoemaker, the district’s facilities manager, said the blaze “probably” jeopardized the start of classes Aug. 27, but there was no official word on what might happen.
Up to 75 firefighters and more than 20 fire vehicles — including aerial trucks — from at least two counties responded to the building about 3 p.m.
Volunteers were seen cutting a ventilation hole on the school roof in the area above Room 209. That’s directly above the school office entrance, which is off Cope Road and also known as the “flagpole entrance” to Northwest students and staffers. Two smashed windows were also seen in the area of Room 209.
The smell of smoke permeated the area around the school, and firefighters were on scene for at least three hours. After the initial fire was knocked down, volunteers spent most of their time trying to ventilate the structure.
Huntington Valley Fire Chief William Miller said a maintenance crew had been waxing floors in the building, but he wouldn’t speculate if that had anything to do with the fire.
He did note, however, that floor buffers were damaged in the blaze.
“It appeared to have started in the hallway,” Miller said of the fire.
The chief said two classrooms were significantly damaged, as were several student lockers made of some composite material or plastic.
Besides the fire and heat damage on the second floor, the first floor had heavy smoke damage.
Miller said crews had to run 300 feet of 3-inch hose into the building, then worked water lines off that.
The floors inside the office entrance of the school were wet, and hoses were seen running up the steps to the second floor.
Most of the building’s windows and doors were open to try to clear smoke, and firefighters were seen carrying out fans.
Miller wouldn’t speculate on classes starting on time.
But he did say, “There’s a lot of cleanup that’s going to be involved.”
He also could not pinpoint a cause. However, he said the fire didn’t appear suspicious.
A State Police fire marshal arrived at 5:45 p.m. and started taking measurements outside the school.
The chief also reported that no one was hurt during the incident.
Shoemaker, the district’s facilities manager, said he got a call about the fire through an automated alarm system.
He didn’t want to talk about what repairs might have to be made until a fire and water cleanup specialist such as ServPro could get inside and see exactly what was damaged.
Besides Huntington, fire units responding included Hunlock Creek, Sweet Valley, Berwick, Salem Township, Orangeville, and Benton.