Fire breaks out at Blanchard Elementary in Cape Girardeau

Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Blanchard Elementary principal Barbara Kohlfeld and Cape Girardeau school district superintendent Dr. Jim Welker watch as firefighters enter Blanchard Elementary Tuesday night, Dec. 6, 2011 to contain a fire inside the Cape Girardeau school. (Laura Simon)

Forget a snow day. Blanchard Elementary School students and staff will miss at least today after a fire substantially damaged a room and caused smoke damage in two others Tuesday night.

Firefighters from Cape Girardeau and Jackson responded to a report of fire from a Blanchard janitor around 8 p.m. Tuesday and battled the blaze, located in the center of the 11-year-old school, for more than an hour. The fire damaged the Workroom No. 51 -- a room that holds the school's Parent Teacher Organization's files and recess equipment -- and caused smoke damage in two rooms used to assist handicapped students. No one was injured.

The cause of the fire is unknown and still under investigation, Cape Girardeau fire chief Rick Ennis said.

After inspecting the damage, Cape Girardeau Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Welker called off Blanchard's school day for today after talking to the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education about whether school for the entire district should be canceled.

"We're going to come here as soon as we can and see what we have to do," Welker said when asked about how many days students may miss.

Welker called the damage in the room where the fire started and the two surrounding smoke damaged rooms "considerable." The fire started in a teachers' workroom, which has a copier, washer and dryer for rags, and a kitchenette with a stove, oven and microwave. Smoke filled a lot of the building; the workroom had to be gutted, Ennis said.

Residual smoke in the ceiling of the workroom caused firefighters to cut a hole in the school's roof, Ennis said. Welker said he was unsure of the hole's size.

School officials will meet at 7:30 a.m. today to discuss what to do for the remainder of the week and examine the school's damage. Blanchard has roughly 350 students and 40 teachers and is one of the largest elementary schools in the district, Welker said. Welker said he was wary of canceling school for just Blanchard.

The Cape Girardeau fire department responds to a fire at Blanchard Elementary Tuesday night, Dec. 6, 2011 in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

"It would be like having almost 400 students absent," he said, noting that the damage was not as bad as he expected.

While watching smoke pour out of the building, some teachers looked on in awe, while others tried to plan their lessons and activities for students should the school be uninhabitable for a long period.

"We were supposed to have the holiday program for first and second graders on Thursday," said first-grade teacher Kim Crader. "We've been throwing ideas out there about what to do."

Melissa Duncan, the PTO's treasurer, said all but this year's financial records were lost in the blaze. Items from the school's holiday store were also in the workroom, Duncan said. Students were rewarded for good behavior with items from the store.

The losses could cause problems for the school clerically, Duncan said.

"I have an order of T-shirts coming in soon and now I don't know who gets one," she said. "It's all gone, but we can live without that. I hope none of the teachers' or students' things were lost. That would be the worst."

Southeast Missourian reporter Erin Ragan contributed to this story.


Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau School District officials gather in front of Blanchard Elementary as fire crews work to contain a fire inside the Cape Girardeau school Tuesday night, Dec. 6, 2011. (Laura Simon)

1829 North Sprigg Street Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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