William Fox Elementary students to go virtual after overnight fire rips through school

Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 11:43 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2022 at 11:34 AM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras says school will be closed Monday and Tuesday at William Fox Elementary School as students transition to virtual learning on Wednesday following a three-alarm fire that ripped through the school Friday night.

Around 10:35 p.m. crews responded to William Fox Elementary School, located at 2300 Hanover Avenue, for a reported building fire. Once on scene, they encountered heavy smoke and flames coming from the top floor above the main entrance. The fire was quickly spreading across the top of the structure.

A spokesperson for the Richmond Fire Department said that a second alarm was called, around 10:50 p.m., to give the department more resources from other nearby companies.

“About 20 minutes after that, all crews were evacuated from the inside of the building because the roof was starting to collapse,” a spokesperson said.

A third alarm was called at approximately 11:09 p.m. At its height, the fire received a response from at least 11 fire engines.

“We made an aggressive interior attack trying to contain the fire,” Deputy Fire Chief, Andrew Snead, said. “However, because of heat, smoke, and fire, we had to come out of the building and go into what we call defensive attack there for just trying to as best as we possibly can.”

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras was on site as crews battled the blaze.

Flames could be seen coming from the roof of the building. At approximately 2:44 a.m., the incident was marked under control.

Personnel from the Chesterfield and Henrico County Fire Departments backfilled the positions at the Richmond Fire Department as the investigation continued into early Saturday morning.

“At this time there is no indication of a cause,” the spokesperson said.

However, during a news conference Saturday morning, Richmond City Fire Chief Melvin Carter said crews did receive a call about an alarm going off at the school around 9:30 p.m. Crews investigated the call, walking through the building, but didn’t find anything; leaving the scene about 40 minutes after arrival.

“There was a fire alarm here or an alarm here that went off and we are not certain if it was a motion detector,” Chief Carter said. " We are still investigating and we’re still trying to get the bottom of that but fire crews did respond and did gain access to the building and did search the building.”

Crews were then dispatched back to the school around 10:35 p.m. for the report of a building fire. The cause and origin of the fire remain under investigation.

Meanwhile, members of the Richmond Police Department provided support on the scene with traffic control and stopped vehicles from running over fire hoses in the area.

Throughout much of Saturday morning, crews were on scene monitoring hotspots to ensure the fire didn’t reignite. Many families also came down to the scene to see the damage during daylight hours.

During a news conference, Kamras announced the school would be closed on Monday and Tuesday to allow families and staff to cope with this incident. On Wednesday, the school will go fully virtual for a period of time as leaders search for another school to allow in-person instruction.

“All Fox students have their Chromebooks at home, they were not in the building,” Kamras said. “So one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we are prepared for unfortunately this eventuality.”

Kamras says he has already met with an insurance representative to begin the process of rebuilding. He says for the long term students will need to be moved to a different location for learning as school officials determine what the next step is.

“We are looking at a couple of options, one of those is Clarksburg Elementary which we sometimes use as swing space,” Kamras said. “We’re exploring the feasibility of that right now but because it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

City and school leaders thank the community for the support shown over the last 24 hours.

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