Fox Elementary, a Richmond institution since 1911, closed indefinitely after late-night fire | Richmond Local News



Video of a fire at Fox Elementary School







A beloved Richmond elementary school in the city’s fan district will remain closed indefinitely after the school, which was built in 1911, was engulfed in flames Friday night.

Students at William Fox Elementary School – who saw their classrooms burn overnight or woke up to the news – will have a day off Monday and Tuesday before going virtual for a while on Wednesday, it was announced on Saturday morning Superintendent Jason Kamras.

“I would like to ask everyone to please keep our students first, their families and their teachers, our support staff, please keep them in your prayers,” Kamras said. “Please reach out and support them in any way you can.”

“To the thousands of calls, emails and texts, offering love and support; this is truly a show of the strength of the RPS family. And I assure you that we will dust ourselves off, get up and move forward with with joy, with love and with learning,” Kamras said.

No deaths or injuries have been reported so far in connection with the fire.

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The superintendent said his team would consider moving them to other schools while damage from Friday night’s fire was assessed and repaired. He said officials were evaluating the old Clark Springs Elementary School building and other school facilities as alternative locations.

As fire crews continued to work to contain the blaze on Saturday morning, families walked around the school building, taking photos of the burned building and chatting with neighbors about their routines late Friday night were unsettled by the pungent smell of smoke and screaming fire trucks.

Oliver Speck, a parent of two boys, one of whom is currently attending Fox, said the fire was even more devastating given that students had just returned to a more normal routine at school this year amid the COVID pandemic. -19.

The family was about to go to bed when the fire broke out around 10:30 a.m. He said they all stayed outside to watch emergency crews battling the fire until 2.30am.

“The cupola on top of the building, we saw it come down,” Speck said. “It was very emotional. Most of his class is here this morning.

At a news conference outside the school on Saturday morning, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney offered his support and said he got a call from Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who promised the same.

The fire will be investigated and no cause is known at this time.

Richmond Fire Chief Melvin D. Carter confirmed Times-Dispatch reports that crews were dispatched to the school at 9.30am, but after a search found nothing and left the scene . They were then recalled at 10:35 a.m., but the fire had spread by then and the crews had to adopt a “defensive posture”.

A fire department press release sent out earlier Saturday morning said crews were called to the school around 10:35 p.m. in response to a three-alarm fire. Officials said parts of the roof began to collapse around 11:09 p.m. That’s when firefighters began to withdraw from the building to focus on a “defensive attack” at the outside.

The press release did not mention the response to an alarm raised at the school earlier in the evening.

Audio recordings of the initial emergency dispatch indicate that several firefighters were called to the school after an alarm was triggered in the building. There have been discussions as to whether this was due to a smoke alarm or some sort of motion detector.

The audio also indicated that there was a delay in firefighters gaining access to the building, as the alarm company could not immediately get a response from anyone at Richmond Public School who had a key.

Carter said Saturday morning that officials were still able to gain access to the interior of the building during the preliminary investigation into the call, but did not know how they did so.

“Before contacting the fire marshal, I just wanted to confirm it was a fire alarm. I heard the activation point was a motion sensor,” a dispatcher can be heard saying during the call.

“Yeah, we’re trying to look out the window now,” replied a firefighter at the scene. “We checked. It says it’s a photo detector in classroom number 32 on the 2nd floor.”

A firefighter says before 10 p.m. he accessed the building from the “Charlie side”. He doesn’t say how.

According to audio recordings and call logs, firefighters left the scene at 10:09 p.m. after saying no danger was found in the building.

New calls about a fire started coming in within 30 minutes.

“This is from a citizen reporting that there are flames visible from the top floor of the school. With gray smoke and debris falling outside. According to the alarm we received earlier tonight, the possible activation point will be in Classroom 32,” the dispatcher said.

Moments later, the dispatcher asked three times to confirm that the building was starting to burn.

At 10:39 p.m., a firefighter replied: “Affirmative. It’s a working fire.

About three minutes later, a request from a firefighter at the scene comes on the broadcast.

“You must send the water.”

City officials said Saturday morning that the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Garrett Roberts, a father of four who lives in the neighborhood, said he was still awake scrolling through his phone Friday night after the children and his partner, Lauren Methena, went to bed. He said he checked an online log of emergency calls just after hearing several engines near their home.

Roberts went to investigate, returned and told Methena he could see flames and thick black smoke coming from Fox, where one of their four children currently attends school. “I started crying. I was in disbelief,” said Methena, who is involved in organizing children’s soccer on school grounds as part of the school’s parent-teacher association.

The next morning, their children pointed to their charred, roofless classrooms on the second floor.

“The land is also flooded. … We’re going to have to find another place to try and keep the football going, just so they have some semblance of normality. We were just getting back to normal,” she said.

“Of course, the first thing they asked me was, ‘Are we going to have to do virtual learning for the rest of the year?'”

People from elsewhere in the city also went to the neighborhood school to see the damage or show solidarity.

Shae McGrath, a former Richmond Public Schools teacher, came to visit the school on Saturday morning, chalking messages on the sidewalks in front of the building to support the community.

McGrath, who trained at the school early in her teaching career, said it was well known as an idyllic place for students, teachers and parents. Other parents and teachers expressed similar sentiments about school on Saturday morning.

“I always felt like it was so sunny,” McGrath said. “There are always children playing and teachers who feel supported by this community. It’s something that not all teachers have, so it’s a really special place.

csuarez@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6178

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