The mayor of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, says he is “devastated” and “gutted” after a massive fire, which authorities have deemed suspicious, destroyed one of the city’s elementary schools on Saturday, burning parts of the building. to the foundations.
On Saturday night, parents met with school administrators and staff as the district makes alternative plans for classes for students at Hazel Trembath Elementary School.
Brad West, mayor of the city of about 60,000 people east of Vancouver, said he attended the school as a child and his own son is a student there.
“Like all of Hazel’s families, my heart is broken,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Conversations with my son who attends first grade at Hazel have been incredibly difficult.
“I am absolutely devastated to see the images of Hazel Trembath disappear. As a former student and parent of a first grader there, I know what a special place Hazel is.”
Emergency services responded to the fire on Confederation Drive shortly after 3am. The school was unoccupied and no one was injured in the fire, according to RCMP.
Police asked the public to stay away from the area Saturday night due to “potentially hazardous air quality,” which RCMP said could last for several days.
The school district held a meeting with parents at 5 p.m. and said on its website that staff and administrators “are working hard on a plan to support the continued learning of the school community.”
Coquitlam School Board President Michael Thomas, Port Coquitlam administrator, says the school has nearly 300 students in kindergarten through fifth grade and is doing everything it can to keep classes together.
“Everyone is devastated and shocked,” he said. “We know this will be disruptive for a number of children and our critical response time will be available to them.”
Law enforcement officials say they are investigating the fire, which they say appears suspicious.
“We ask anyone who may have video surveillance in the area of Hazel Trembath Elementary School at the time of the fire to contact our investigators,” said Cpl. Alexa Hodgins in a press release Saturday morning.
“Police are also looking to speak to anyone who may have been in the area between the afternoon of October 13, 2023 and the early hours of October 14, 2023.”
The fire continued to burn well into the afternoon, causing smoke to rise over the city as firefighters put out the devastated school.
The entrance to the school burned, a CBC journalist at the scene observed, and although some parts of the structure remained intact, the fire appeared to have destroyed several classrooms, shattering window panes.
Several students and their families watched the destruction from behind the line of fire, expressing sadness and disbelief.
“I’m very sad that the school burned down,” said Nick Kalganova, who started working at the school two years ago when his family moved to Canada.
His mother Oksana says the school and teachers have been wonderful and she is worried about where her son will go on Monday.
“I hope they find options for online learning or at other schools,” he said.
Alumni and community members also said they were devastated.
Abby Code, 13, says seeing the school burned to the ground makes her feel like she’s lost her home.
“I met all my best friends here, so it’s sad to see all my memories just disappear,” she said.
District working to relocate students
School officials say they are “all hands on deck” to find places for students to learn, likely at other schools in the city’s crowded district.
The school district hosted an informational meeting for students and families Saturday at 5 p.m. at Pitt River Community High School in Port Coquitlam, Thomas said.
Port Coquitlam Fire and Rescue Services was not available for comment prior to publication.