Blue Ridge Elementary School fire ruled accident

Jeff Horner

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Place

Blue Ridge Elementary

1150 W. Chestnut St., Walla Walla

Blue Ridge Elementary

WALLA WALLA — A Monday morning fire that damaged part of Blue Ridge Elementary has been ruled accidental, officials said.

Walla Walla Fire Chief Bob Yancey said this morning the fire started when a rarely used stovetop with supplies on top of it was switched on, causing the items on top to ignite.

Yancey said the stove had its power routinely turned off at the breaker rather than on the appliance itself. The stove was rarely used and supplies had been placed on its top by kitchen staff, he said.

Monday about 8 a.m., while a refrigeration technician did some work in the kitchen area, the breaker powering the stove was turned on, and a burner that had been left on ignited the items resting on top, Yancey said.

The fire set off the school’s fire alarm and fire suppression sprinkler system in the basement area, where the school’s kitchen and cafeteria are located.

District spokesman Mark Higgins said the fire alarm worked as it should, alerting staff throughout the building of a fire in the lower level of the school. Higgins said Kerri Coffman, director of preschool programs, went downstairs to check on the alarm’s origin, and called 911 after seeing the fire.

Although the fire alarm automatically alerts emergency personnel, Higgins said Coffman called authorities as an added measure and to confirm the alarm was not false.

Yancey said the cause of the fire was being classified as accidental. Yancey gave the fire department’s damage estimate as about $70,000. He said the district was waiting to see whether water damage to the floor of the school’s gym, which is downstairs by the kitchen and cafeteria, would require it to be replaced.

Higgins said the fire has prompted a district-wide review of safety and prevention efforts at all district schools.

Dan Johnson, director of facilities and operations, will visit all district schools to do walk-throughs with principals to ensure safety standards are being met, Higgins said.

Higgins said the district wants to take a proactive, preventive approach to student and staff safety as a result of the fire.

“We want to learn, and we want to improve,” Higgins said.

Meanwhile, Blue Ridge is set to reopen for business Wednesday at 11 a.m., and in time for an open house scheduled Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for all students. The first day of school is Sept. 4.

Before reopening next week, the district will be conducting air quality tests to ensure the school is safe for staff and students.

Blue Ridge and preschool families can continue to register students and get back-to-school information through Monday at the district’s Transportation Cooperative, 1162 Entley St., near Koncrete Industries.

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