Arson is suspected following a fire last night at Ecole Saint Joseph Catholic School. Shortly after 7pm, emergency crews were called to the school to battle a blaze that started by the schools portables. At one point the fire was believed to be under control, but then the blaze broke out destroying nearly half of the building. School Principal Flo Campbell is asking for Yellowknife residents to do what they can.

“My staff’s whole life is tied up in this building, that’s what they live for and that’s who they are. I would ask if any members of the public know anything about the fire starting tonight, because indeed, it seems like it was intentional, that they would have the courage to come forward to the RCMP or ourselves, Kern Von Haggen or myself, with information because we want to find the best solution we can for ourselves and our families.”

Catholic board Superintendent Kern Von Hagen says this isn’t the first time this has happened either “On the back side at one of our entrances we had had some activity last year where some individuals tried to torch it a little bit and we had to replace doors and ceiling and soffit and siding and all of that. So, you know, you look at this… And then I heard they found a couple of five gallon gerry cans outside of Range Lake last night and the last couple of nights. There’s something crazy going on in this town.” Much of the school was demolished. Dozens of residents who neighbour the school were evacuated and stayed in Saint Patrick’s gymnasium. Von Hagen says he rushed over to the school as soon as he heard there was a problem.

“Well, I was over here around quarter to eight. I was told there was a fire in the portables and ran right over and took a look at it. Within about an hour we thought we had it under control but apparently the fire had gotten in between the walls in the portables and crept up and infiltrated the ceiling and unfortunately it looks like four portables and our mini-gym is gone here.“

Von Hagen says they’re taking a wait and see approach.

“We’re going to be looking at an assessment here and trying to kind of sort out just what kind of damage has happened here but it looks like all four portables are gone and of course that has implications for us in the fall. We’ve got all kinds of teacher materials and resources and just all the things you would expect to be in classrooms which that really are a big concern as well.”

An investigation is underway and no official cause has been determined but reports say it was arson and police are investigating it as such. Sergeant Darcy Fleury from the Yellowknife RCMP says witness reports have identified potential suspects and police are actively seeking the person or persons for questioning. Once again, anyone who may have any informational at all is asked to contact the RCMP. Mix 100 is the first to speak with Yellowknife Fire Department officials. Acting Fire Chief Darcy Hernbladt says originally the fire appeared to be underneath the portables. “The first arriving unit on scene noticed heavy smoke and flames coming from underneath the skirting of one of the portable schools that’s attached to the main school. The firefighters made a fairly aggressive attack on the fire but the it had already spread to voids in the wall and the floor spacing and basically at this point they just could not get a grasp or a handle on the fire. Shortly thereafter we were into a defensive mode to keep this portable that was burning to spreading into the main structure, the main part of the school.” Many people who initially saw the blaze thought it was under control before it started spreading further. Hernbladt says controlling a fire inside walls is extremely difficult. “Once the fire spreads into the walls it makes it very hard to get on top of the fire in a very fast manner. It means opening up all the walls to get at the seat of the fire and this all takes time. And usually the fire has a good chance to start spreading quicker than we can get walls and floor spacing opened up and get at the seat of the fire.” There are still fire crews watching the scene for small flare-ups that can occur under collapsed sections of the portables. As it stands, the four portables and the mini-gym were destroyed but it appears the main building of the school is in good shape and school officials are feeling positive about the situation that could have been much worse. We’ll have more on-going coverage of the blaze and its aftermath through the day right here on Mix 100.