A portable building caught on fire at Crowell Elementary School at about 1:30pm on Tuesday, sending a large amount of black smoke into the air to be seen from the Hawkeye Avenue and Geer Road area. According to Fire Chief Tim Lohman, approximately 900 students and school employees were evacuated safely.
The fire at Crowell School, bordered by Hawkeye Avenue, Geer Road, and North Avenue, started in a classroom that was under renovation, and was part of a Turlock Unified School District (TUSD) modernization project.
The cause of the fire is still unknown and under investigation. The building had construction workers inside and the school did have children in other classrooms.
The fire was reported at 1:39pm and the Turlock Fire Department arrived on scene in three minutes and called it a second alarm fire. The fire was under control in 30 minutes.
The children were evacuated per the School District Emergency plan and no injuries were reported, according to Turlock Police.
“The School Staff& Administration did an excellent job in making sure the children were safe and all emergency procedures were followed,” said Turlock Police Sergeant Steve Webb. “Turlock Fire did an outstanding job in their immediate response and in controlling the fire.”
Turlock Fire Captain Bill Becker explained that by the time the Fire Department arrived there was a lot of heavy black smoke and fire involvement.
“The fire extended very quickly, so we got here and put our resources to work,” said Fire Captain Becker. “We went for an offensive attack, which is where we actually went inside with a hose line to fight the fire, and at the same time we had a crew up on the roof to cut a ventilation hole.”
Very quickly into that operation, fire started to come through the roof while the heavy weight of utilities on the roof started to show signs of the roof caving in.
“We pulled the firefighters out and fought the fire from the exterior because there was such a collapse potential,” explained Becker. “That’s what kills firefighters a lot, is that collapse. Shortly after the call of a defensive strategy the utilities on the roof started falling in and there was structural failure on the roof.”
“It was a dangerous fire, but we made the right call,” stated Becker.
About 20 Turlock firefighters worked at containing and putting out the fire while the Turlock Rural Fire Department was providing city coverage.
There were no reported injuries to any children at the school, employees, or the Fire Department firefighters.
A TUSD Teleparent message was sent out stating that all students would be released on Hawkeye Avenue at the normal dismissal time; and the buses would arrive at the normal time.
Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman stated that the fire evacuation was executed very well and according to all the practice drills TUSD performs monthly.