AFD: Overnight fire causes significant damage to College Gate Elementary School

Published: Dec. 31, 2017 at 1:36 PM AKST
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Shortly after midnight Sunday, Anchorage Firefighters were dispatched to a fire at College Gate Elementary School. According to AFD, smoke and flames were visible from a corner of the school when crews arrived.

“The school’s sprinkler system had activated and was managing to contain the fire to the classroom of origin,” AFD wrote in a release Sunday afternoon. An official cause is still under investigation, but AFD said the fire seems to be “suspicious in nature.”

Fire, smoke and water destroyed items inside the classroom but didn’t seem to impact the actual structure; however, AFD wrote the fire appears to have caused “several hundred thousand dollars” worth of damage. “Crews ventilated the school of residual smoke and removed water from adjacent classrooms and the hallway,” according to AFD.

Rob Holland, ASD Director of Operations said, "we got the water extracted out of the carpet as soon as we could." Holland said, the carpets will get thoroughly cleaned and the ceiling tiles and window will need to be replaced.

"Kind of the most tragic part of something like this is more difficult to replace is the more personal stuff, work the students have made. Those have to go away (because of) the moisture damage and the smoke damage," Holland said.

The fire was contained to Heather Helgeson's fourth-grade classroom.

"I am devastated for my kids more than anything because this is a home away from home for a lot of them and when someone comes in a breaks your stuff you feel violated," Helgeson said.

Helgeson said, several hundred books are destroyed. "Even the ones that don’t look damaged, I’m afraid will be so smoked damaged. I don’t know how much we are going to be able to do," Helgeson said.

Many of the students' gym shoes and snow boots were destroyed, along with more than ten years of teaching supplies she has collected.

One of the most devastating items lost to the fire includes the class set of Kindle e-readers, a recent addition for students.

"They were so excited we had just gotten them all set up they were ready to go and we were going to start using them next week and now I don’t know what we are going to do," she said.

Catherine Esary, a public affairs spokesperson with the Anchorage School District, says the school will be ready to open on Jan. 8 when students return from winter break.

Esary says the majority of the damage is localized to a single classroom. The carpet will likely need to replaced and debris and smoke damage will need to be repaired. Esary says she thinks the figure of several hundred thousand dollars worth of damage may turn out to be a little high.