SJ elementary school gutted by suspicious fire


Arson investigators are trying to find out who started the fire that has stunned an entire community.

"Someone is doing some damage, not just to a structure, but to people's lives," neighbor Marlene Bjornsrud told ABC7.

School leaders held an emergency meeting at a nearby high school Monday. The district superintendent reassured families that portable classrooms will be brought on-site and school will start on time.

The pre-dawn fire at Trace Elementary School was so intense firefighters say the best they could do was protect the surrounding buildings. News of the fire spread almost as quickly as the flames.

"This morning, I started crying, but now I think I'm just in shock. Seeing this, it just doesn't seem real," said third-grade teachers Chelsea Voss.

The fire gutted the main building that housed more than a dozen classrooms and a library that served more than 1,000 students. Trace is known for its performing arts, bilingual immersion and parent involvement.

"It's just so sad. The loss of the library books, the computers, the teachers' supplies," said parent Risa Jacobson.

"The library had really good books and really good poems," said student Emma Perez.

The community's sadness is mixed with anger. Investigators say it appears the fire was intentionally set.

"It makes me angry to know that someone could have started this. It's just... How could anyone do that? It's just so mean," one boy said.

As the arson investigation moves forward, the school district is determined classes will resume as scheduled on August 16.

"Obviously, it'll be different, but we really want the consistency for these kids, that they'll be here and that they'll be on campus," said district spokeswoman Karen Fuqua.

Insurance will cover the cost of rebuilding the school, but as one heartbroken teacher told us, there are so many things that simply cannot be replaced.

"Pictures of all the children I ever taught are gone," said teacher Sandra Ballingall. "I can't express it. Very, very sad."

16 classrooms were destroyed. A new portion of the school was not damaged thanks to the efforts of firefighters.

The arson investigation will resume Tuesday. A fire department spokesperson would not confirm reports that the fire started in multiple locations.

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