Fire destroys building at Menlo Park school

September 13, 2012 11:44:34 PM PDT
A faulty kitchen appliance is believed to be the cause of a devastating fire at private school in Menlo Park. Investigators say it appears a pinched cable leading to an electric range is where the fire started at the Beechwood School.

Third-grade teacher Mary-Eileen Gallagher spent Thursday afternoon sifting through the debris, hoping to find anything worth saving. The Stanford graduate just started teaching a few months ago, something she had been looking forward to for years, "I've been saving things since 2008, shipping things from Minnesota here to use and it's all gone."

Officials say the fire broke out just before 4 a.m. Thursday. Flames destroyed not only the third-grade classroom, but also the school's administration offices.

Beechwood is private, but it's not your typical private school, it's geared for families who live in a low performing public school district. Private donations cover most of the cost.

Jordan Palacios went to Beechwood from kindergarten through eighth grade. He visited Thursday to see the destruction first hand, "We only had 18 kids in our class so it was pretty tight. It was like a family. And yeah, it just hurts."

Fortunately, many of the students' records were found to be in salvageable condition. But mostly all of Ms. Gallagher's keepsakes and childhood books she kept over the years were destroyed. One bright spot was the discovery of the book, "It's Okay to Be Different," a book she read to her students at the beginning of the school year. She plans to share it with the class when school reopens on Monday, "I know it's going to mean a lot to our kids because it really brought us together and to have that I know is going to give us comfort."

The school will be closed until at least Monday. In the meantime officials need to find a temporary home for the third graders when classes resume.

Damage to the building is estimated at more than $400,000.


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