T he POSTAL CUSTOMER Colonial Beach • Westmoreland Pages 6 & 7 Volume 38, Number 2 Wednesday, January 8, 2014 50 Cents helping you relate to your community A Colonial Beach landmark burns Tragedy brings communities together “A piece of Colonial Beach history gone; such a sad day” - Just two of the comments on Facebook from residents of Colonial Beach who woke up, Sunday Jan. 5 to news that the landmark 100-year-old brick building known to many long-time residents as the old high school at the elementary school campus had burned beyond repair by roughly 5 a.m. Chief David Robey of the Colonial Beach Vol. Fire Department said the fire was toned out around 4 a.m. Robey said they could see the flames from the fire house which is located about a block away. When firefighters arrived on scene the school building was fully engulfed in flames. The State Fire Marshal, investigating the fire stated that the bulk of the fire was on the front side of the building which is located on the river side and burned towards the back of the building which sits roughly 50 yards from Douglas Ave. The fire spread up through the center stairwell and was coming out See landmark, page 3 Firefighters came to Colonial Beach from all over the Northern Neck and Southern Maryland as well as the neighboring communities of Dahlgren and King George Sunday morning, Jan. 5, to help battle the early morning blaze that gutted the already condemned old two story brick building that had served as a school in many capacities over the last 100 years. Not since the Yacht Club Marina fire in May of 2002 which destroyed over 50 boats, has the town seen so many firefighters respond to tragedy in Colonial Beach. Firefighters from all over flock to Colonial Beach every summer to participate in the fireman’s parade for fun, but Sunday Jan. 5 was no cake walk. However there was plenty of cake, food and other supplies on hand thanks to the donations of so many citizens. With such a demand for water to fight the blaze which began some time before 4 a.m., a boat crew from Cobb Island had to dock in the Potomac river and pump water to dozens of trucks some three blocks away. But there was no shortage of water Water streams from two directions as fire erupts from the roof and windows of the building which served Colonial Beach many years as a school. See tragedy, page 3 Officials say campus is now a collapse zone Linda Farneth After the smoke had cleared the Colonial Beach School Board was left with several hazards at the elementary school campus, making the decision, of where to house primary and elementary students for the remainder of the year, even tougher. After a fire raged through the 100-year old condemned two story building, which was formerly the town’s middle school, in the early morning hours of Jan. 5, the wooden elements that support the brick exterior walls were destroyed. This left the building unstable. According to officials the building could collapse at any time. The usable buildings on the campus sit just feet from the two story structure and could be in the path of any falling debris. This makes the site too dangerous to allow children to attend school on the campus. During a special meeting of the School Board after the fire, on Sunday Jan. 5, school officials were met with opposition when they mentioned that the campus needed to be closed and the children should be relocated. Local resident and building contractor Steve Cirbee argued that the old building could be braced or torn down and school could resume on the campus within a week. “Stop saying that the campus can’t be used because that is not the truth!” Cirbee argued that the existing buildings previously used are still intact. School Board member Michelle Payne was very upset with Cirbee’s comments and stated “As a parent of a child in that school, if you can tell me that you can take that building down in a week so that there is nothing on that campus that is a hazard to any of those kids, your talking pre-K, special ed.” Cirbee responded, “It’s done all the time.” Payne then challenged Cirbee to step up to the plate. Payne argued that Cirbee did not have a child in the school. Emotions ran high for several minutes between the two, until School Board Chairman Trivett stopped the exchange. Newly-appointed council member and former Mayor Pete Bone urged the group to put emotions aside and stick to the facts. Westmoreland Building Inspector Dexter Monroe warned the group that regardless of what the school board decided about where the children are housed, he will scrutinize the area for the safety of the children. Monroe stated that if the children are housed in churches or Linda Farneth conference rooms he will have to inspect each area before the kids will be cleared to attend Elementary School Principal Mary Fisher looked on with sadness but expressed school. great relief that the fire did not happen when the children were in school. Cause of the blaze is under investigation School Board Chairman and volunteer firefighter, Tim Trivett told the public at a special school board meeting Sunday afternoon, Jan. 5 that investigators from the state had been called in to investigate the cause of the fire which damaged Colonial Beach Elementary School. Fire officials say when a building is vacant and/or condemned, ruling out arson is a matter of procedure. Sergeant Thomas Molnar, public information officer for the Virginia State Police, wrote in an email on Monday morning, “We have not ruled the fire an arson as this is an active and on-going investigation. “On Jan. 5, at the request of the Colonial Beach Fire Department, fire investigators with the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Richmond Field Office were called to the scene of a structure fire in the 300 block of Douglas Avenue at the Colonial Beach Elementary School in Westmoreland County. “The fire investigation is on-going to determine the origin and cause of the fire.” On Sunday after fire crews secured and cleared the scene, the fire department was called back for a report of a fuel leak. Colonial Beach Fire Chief David Robey said in a phone interview Monday morning that a fuel leak was discovered in the basement area of the burned out building. Robey stated that he was unaware that the fuel lines supplying the primary building had been previously rerouted to supply fuel to the old two story building as well. Robey stated that the supply line was closed off to stop the leak, but the basement area where the fuel was leaking was too flooded to examine the cause of the leak yesterday. Robey declined to speculate on when the fuel leak began or if it has contributed to the fire in any way. The entire block has been closed off to the public by order of the Building Inspector Dextor Monroe. Teachers and staff are only allowed to enter the undamaged buildings on the grounds with a fire department escort. The burned out building is off limits to everyone including firefighters. Only fire investigators are allowed to enter the building at this time. —Linda Farneth Hazardous chemicals more than HazMat could handle Adding to the immediate dangers are hazardous chemicals, creating a situation that not even HazMat could solve. Chemicals left in the school’s science lab had been secured while the building was closed and being used as a storage facility. Sunday’s fire gutted the building, leaving it exposed to the elements and unidentified chemicals, including old ether had to be moved to the old gymnasium to ensure they could be locked up and undisturbed until a Reactive Management Team could come and dispose of these chemicals. Colonial Beach School Board Chairman, Tim Trivett, a long time See Chemicals, page 3 Linda Farneth A view from the back of the building shows the fire damage to the front side of the building, where the fire is believe to have started. Now you can follow local breaking news daily on our website at www.journalpress.com The ONLY credit card you need – a NSWC Federal Credit NSWC Federal Credit Union Visit nswcfcu.org for details. 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