The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 26, 2013

Fire at school causes $250G damage

David Hurst

PORTAGE — Portage Area schools are expected to reopen today after eight fire stations battled flames at the elementary school early Tuesday.

While school district officials are estimating the fire caused up to $250,000 in damage, it could have been far worse, Superintendent Richard Bernazzoli said Tuesday.

“Thank God we caught it early,” Bernazzoli said, as crews cleaned up the mess left by the fire. “This could have been devastating.”

The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Reports of a fire at the Mountain Avenue school reached responders at 2:20 a.m. Portage volunteer firefighters and their fellows from across the Main Line responded.

Bernazzoli said a 30-foot section of roof and insulation burned along the school’s back wall.

“In some areas, it burned down to the concrete decking,” he said.

Dousing the fire caused only minor water damage inside the building, school officials said.

An art classroom received the most water damage, but at first glance it appeared the furniture and computers were spared, Bernazzoli said.

A venting unit with an air exchanger on the roof also was damaged, and school officials speculated that a malfunction with the unit could have caused the fire. But Bernazzoli also said the vent was functioning while the roof was burning and noted it fanned the flames.

Early indications suggest the fire was electrical, Bernazzoli added, speculating that wiring leading to floodlights also might have caused the fire.

The district is preparing paperwork to file an insurance claim, Bernazzoli said.

The building was renovated a year ago, but the roof was not part of the project, he said.

In addition to Portage firefighters, volunteers from Ashville, Blue Knob, Lilly, Cresson, Dauntless, Richland and Summerhill responded.

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