Investigation into elementary school fire begins

July 6, 2010 6:48:08 PM PDT
The investigation into what started a massive fire at Trace Elementary School in San Jose began in earnest Tuesday. A team of seven investigators from several agencies began combing over the charred remains of the main building at the school.

An 8-year-old lab named Rosie is one of the tools investigators are using. She was trained by the ATF to detect flammable liquids. Her handler is the chief arson investigator for the Santa Clara County Fire Department. Dennis Johnsen says, "They have electronic detectors but they don't even come close to being as good as a dog as far as her nose and senses."

When Monday's early morning fire gutted the main building at Trace, fire investigators immediately called the fire suspicious. The department has since backed away from that assessment saying "nothing has been ruled out at this point."

As investigators try to figure out where and how the fire started, school district officials are busy dealing with how school will start on Aug. 16 for Trace's more than 1,000 students. District spokesperson Karen Fuqua says, "We have insurance so we are fully funded."

The more immediate concern is where the portable classrooms will be put for first and second grade students. Sixteen classrooms and the school library were destroyed in the fire.

The district met with Trace teachers Tuesday and says there are many considerations, for example, where to put the portables, traffic, play areas, and teacher access.

Aidan Shattuck is a student at Trace and says, "It will be squished, but I think everyone will be OK."

The school district does have insurance and teachers have been given two forms to fill out, documenting everything in their rooms including items bought with their own money.

"It's amazing how much stuff you accumulate, so trying to recall all that stuff..." says teacher Jennifer Roderick.

If the investigation does indeed point to arson and there is an arrest, many say the healing process will be difficult.

"How do you put justice on a kid because their rationale is not the same as an adult would be and if it's an adult, it's mind blowing," says parent Raeann Prado.

The school district says losses could reach $10 million and there is a $100,000 deductable on the insurance policy.

The support in the community has been truly appreciated. Wells Fargo Bank donated $25,000 to the effort.


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