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Published November 10 2010

Fire destroys classrooms at Lidgerwood Public School

LIDGERWOOD, N.D. – The second fire at Lidgerwood Public School since 1999 destroyed at least two classrooms and caused extensive smoke damage to the first floor of the building Tuesday night.

The fire started shortly after 5 p.m. in a first-floor room near the school’s activities center, which was scheduled to host the North Dakota Class B, Region 1 volleyball tournament semifinals.

Fans, students and players were ushered from the building after fire alarms sounded and a pungent smell filled the gymnasium.

A Lidgerwood Public School maintenance worker attempted to battle the blaze with a fire extinguisher before calling the fire department with a report of an electrical fire, said 1st Lt. Ron Haley of the Lidgerwood Fire Department. No injuries were reported.

“People were just getting here for volleyball,” said Paulette Lejer, who teaches special-needs students at Lidgerwood Public School. “I walked in the school, and the fire alarm was just going off. I thought someone just pulled the fire alarm button. They said: ‘No, no, it’s a real fire, so we evacuated the building.’

“There were flames, and glass was popping and smoke was pouring out of the window.”

The volleyball tournament was postponed.

The fire affected eight school districts who began Region 1 play Monday.

Tournament participants were Kindred, Oakes, Wyndmere-Lidgerwood, Central Cass, Fargo Oak Grove, Lisbon, Northern Cass and Milnor.

The tourney, which was to conclude with the championship match on Friday in Lidgerwood, will be moved to a different location, said Lidgerwood Superintendant and high school Principal Tony Grubb.

Grubb named North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton and Lisbon High School as possible destinations. The decision on the new location will be made today, Grubb said.

“Safety is first, get everybody out,” Grubb said. “We’ve been through this before. It’s a big time inconvenience for education. But everyone is safe. We will survive it and get it moving.”

Haley said black smoke filled the first floor, making it difficult to see just a few feet. Light fixtures were melted and smoke damaged several rooms, Haley said.

Haley didn’t think the fire reached the second floor. But smoke could be seen pouring from several second-story windows during the incident.

Firefighters from Hankinson and Lidgerwood battled the fire for more than an hour.

Grubb said classes at the school will likely be canceled the remainder of the week. The building houses K-12 students.

Students may be sent to another school for classes during cleanup and repairs of the damage.

A faulty battery charger or floor scrubber caused a fire in a Lidgerwood Public School utility room in 1999. That blaze caused about $300,000 worth of damage, Grubb said.

Students were also moved to Wyndmere for several weeks. A meeting between school officials and the fire marshal is set for 8:30 a.m. today to discuss the extent of the damage, Grubb said.

Grubb fears the damage will be extensive.

The fire in 1999 was localized to one room. Tuesday’s blaze may have significantly affected two floors, Grubb said.

“I saw a lot of smoke coming out of the windows and there was one air conditioner cover that had flames coming out,” said Grubb, who has been at Lidgerwood for 13 years. “You walk inside the building and you can’t go into the main structure because of the smoke. There is smoke pretty much in the entire building.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562