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High school evacuated after fire enters through vent

Students and staff are safely evaucated


by: LORI HALL - Fire crews were still working to contain a fire at West Linn High School as of 3:45 p.m. Monday.

Spirit week at West Linn High School got off to a hot start. The school was evacuated Monday afternoon after a small brush fire outside the building spread inside.

Firefighters responded to a call from the school around 2 p.m. According to Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue spokesman Brian Barker, a district maintenance worker was welding outside the building near the new gymnasium when a spark caught an arborvitae on fire.by: VERN UYETAKE -

“It ignited landscaping material that went up like Christmas tree and propelled flames 15 to 20 feet above the tree,” said Tim Woodley, director of operations for the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, at an emergency school board meeting Oct. 9.

School staff extinguished the small fire and called TVF&R to double check the fire was out. When firefighters arrived, Barker said, they noticed smoke coming from the roof of the building.

The fire had entered the building threw an HVAC vent over a kitchen. The fire snaked its way into a multitude of void spaces above the gym and mezzanine above the kitchen that do not have water sprinkler coverage. However, Woodley said the fire systems in the school worked without flaw.

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Students and staff were evacuated and school was released for the day. No injuries were reported.

“The kids did a great job. The staff did a fantastic job,” said West Linn Police Officer Mike Franice, the school’s resource officer.

Trucks from Portland Fire and Rescue, Clackamas Fire District and Lake Oswego Fire Department responded to the three-alarm fire. To access the flames, firefighters had to cut through the wall and the roof. Barker said the space where the fire was is narrow and tough to access.

“It’s complicated because there’s a lot of stuff to cut through,” Barker said.

He said the fire was contained to the gym area thanks to a firewall. Barker credited the school district’s quick response to the fire to keeping the fire under control.

“The school district did a great job today,” Barker said. “We were lucky no one got hurt.”

Firefighters extinguished hot spots, conducted salvage and overhaul operations and put out the fire by 8 p.m., Woodley said. A security team patrolled the building all night on Monday.

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“While you don’t want something like this to happen, in my opinion, it was as textbook good as it gets,” Woodley said.

West Linn High School Principal Lou Bailey said the fire efforts were Herculean.

“I left last night (Monday) at about 11 p.m. almost in tears at what was going on and came back this morning and was like, ‘Whoa,’” Bailey said. “The building is clean. It’s amazing.”

As soon as the building was cleared, Cooper Construction — a company that has been contracted through the school district before — removed debris and worked to salvage the building.

The area primarily impacted by the fire was the roof above the kitchen between the auxiliary gym and main gym.

Smoke engulfed the entire building and water from the fire sprinklers and firefighters penetrated down three separate floors and into the basement. As of Oct. 8, the women’s locker had about 2 to 6 inches of standing water on the floor and water was coming down through the walls.

One of the primary concerns is the wood courts and the wood floor in the dance studio in the lower level, Woodley said. He also told the school board that the kitchen itself was “pretty distressed” and the mechanical mezzanine above it has been compromised, which may affect other areas of the campus.

The true extent of the damage is unknown.

Architects, structural engineers, the building official and the fire marshal inspected the structural components of the building on Tuesday and assessed that the building was safe to open for school Wednesday. TVF&R did air monitoring checks and deemed the environment safe for students. Classes resumed as usual on Wednesday and construction barriers were created around the affected fire zones.

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The emergency school board meeting was called to discuss an emergency contract with Cooper Construction to repair damages. The school board unanimously authorized the declaration of emergency.

“Part of doing it correctly is the school board declaring an emergency,” Woodley said. “I have no idea what the value of this may or may not be. These are sophisticated systems, you don't always know how these things will work."

Construction is expected to last upwards of two months, although Woodley said the auxiliary gym might be available to students soon. Team rooms have been designated to accommodate upcoming athletic events. Volleyball games might be moved to Rosemont Ridge Middle School. Sack lunches for the high school are currently being prepared and transported from Bolton Primary School.

The locker rooms will be completely reconstructed. A portion of the damaged areas was new construction and the project plans still exist. Woodley said those design plans would be used again to help streamline construction time and permitting.

“We are in the perfect position to take this on,” he said. “We will manage this just like any construction project that we have. The difference will be the coordination with our insurance company.”

District officials said there are no unforeseen insurance costs as of yet. The school district has a $50,000 insurance deductible. The school’s insurance will also cover personal items — such as student belongings that may have been lost or damaged in the locker rooms.

“It’s a little bit of a miracle to think that we are going to have school tomorrow (Wednesday),” Superintendent Bill Rhoades said. “I think it will be good for kids to get back in and see that school is OK, that is going to be a great school year, and that they can move on with homecoming.”

Today's homecoming assembly was canceled, but the football game is still on. The homecoming dance was still pending when the newspaper went to press.

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by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: KENNEDY MONIHAN - Some students covered their faces to protect themselves from the smoke bellowing over the football stadium.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: KENNEDY MONIHAN - Students waited outside of the high school for more than a half hour while waiting to be released.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JORI MONIHAN - Smoke rolled from the roof during the fire at West Linn High School on Oct. 8.




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