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Two fires within 4 days at Waxahachie High School

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JIM WILLIAMS
Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - While investigators were investigating one fire last Friday morning at Waxahachie High School, firefighters battled another blaze there Monday morning.

'It was a smoldering fire in the science wing,' said Candace Ahlfinger, director of public relations for the Waxahachie Independent School District. 'There was minimal damage; just a little bit of smoke damage. It was quickly contained.

'It's quite a coincidence,' Ahlfinger said of both fires. 'We have no speculation of the cause. Hopefully, everything will be in good shape soon. Students have been asking if they still had to start school on time. Yes, August 10th.'

Someone viewing last Friday's fire scene from the nearby Wal-Mart department store parking lot asked if damages would result in raising taxes.

Someone else later said the school district surely had insurance to cover damage to the WHS vocational building by fire, damaging portions of the cosmetology department, and welding and auto body shops. Thirty classrooms and 150 computers worth thousands of dollars may have been totally destroyed.

Bobby Parker, superintendent for the Waxahachie Independent School District, said they were meeting with their insurance people.

Insurance appraisers have been taking a close look at the 65,000-square-foot, metal building, along with engineers to determine what must be demolished and what could be saved.

Parker said the fire in the rear of the school next to the right-center field fence of the Lady Indians' softball diamond did not reach the main building on campus.

The 2000-01 school year will still start on schedule in three weeks, even if portable buildings have to be brought in to accommodate students until the vocational wing is repaired.

Ahlfinger said the WISD had contacted a number of businesses concerning the acquisition of portables.

She said when damage estimates were completed they would know how many portables they would need and then place an order for them.

Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins said the cause of Friday's fire was still under investigation.

Hudgins said the blaze originated in the attic.

David Nix, WHS assistant principal, said the fire spread along the ceiling.

According to another report, the fire started in an air conditioning unit.

Hudgins said after the Waxahachie Fire Department received the call at 9 a.m. and arrived on the scene, an air conditioning unit on top of the roof fell inside the building.

'That's when we pulled our guys out,' Hudgins said.

The weight from the air conditioning unit and a portion of the roof, which dropped, caused walls to lean inward.

Firefighters then went to using extended ladders and master water hoses, extinguishing much of the fire before noon.

Along with Waxahachie, fire departments responding to the vocational building blaze included those from Ferris, Red Oak, Ovilla, Lancaster, Ennis, Midlothian, Italy and DeSoto.

Hudgins said he called for other departments to respond because more firefighters would be needed in the 100-degree weather.

Despite having about 60 firefighters on hand, Hudgins said there were times they didn't have enough fresh people to send to battle the fire.

With temperatures above 100 degrees, six firefighters were treated for heat and dehydration at a rehab tent on the scene, provided by Red Cross and East Texas Ambulance Service. None required hospitalization.

Hudgins also recognized the neighboring Wal-Mart, H-E-B supermarket, and the Whataburger and Jack in the Box restaurants for providing food and water to firefighters the entire time they were there Friday.

Hudgins said temperatures from the fire reached in excess of 800 degrees.

No one was injured in the fire.

There was one person, a school secretary, in the vocational building when a custodian detected smoke. The secretary escaped unharmed.

This portion of the campus was constructed nearly 30 years ago. It did not have an indoor sprinkler system in the event of fire. Hudgins said fire could have been prevented with sprinklers.

The same building caught fire eight years ago.

Hudgins said newer portions of the campus have sprinklers.

Ahlfinger said Monday's fire in the science wing began about 10 a.m.

She said investigation into each fire would require several days.

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