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Superior Fire: Cooper Elementary School Fire Started in Gym Storage Room

Updated: April 10, 2018 06:48 PM

Superior Fire Chief Steve Panger says the fire at the Cooper Elementary School construction site started in the gym storage room.

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Panger says this was known early on in the investigation, and that the fire had been burning for awhile before it was discovered around 10:00 on Sunday night.

"We knew when we got on scene there was large volumes of black smoke coming from the structure. We knew there was a well advanced fire by that time," said Panger. "We were working against it a little bit, we knew we had a little catch up to do on that fire to extinguish it."

Gas flowing from the boiler room then caused an explosion on the main floor, according to Panger. There were reports of other explosions, according to Panger. The department says no one was injured from the explosion.

After about 3 hours they were able to extinguish the flames. They remained on scene until 1:20 a.m. 

The school suffered an estimated $1.5 million in damages after the fire, and explosion.

"The bulk of damage on this is on the north side of the building, which you can see is in their mechanical area," said Battalion Chief Scott Gordon.

About half-way through Monday morning, around 11 a.m., a second fire broke out in the same location. 

"Smoke was coming out of the roof. It was pretty easy to see where it was coming from. The Police Department was already here," said Gordon. "We're pretty certain that the first one caused the second one."

The Police Department's drone helped locate exactly where the fire was, which also helped in their plan of attack.

As of around 1 p.m. Monday afternoon, the second fire was contained in the roof area. Gordon says the challenge was getting access to the fire because they couldn't get inside the building.

"The fire was coming through the roof. They're cutting open the roof. They're going to keep doing that until they can open up a section of roof that's not on fire," said Gordon.

Gordon said the wind was also a challenge because it kept pushing the fire to the other side of the building. Eventually, they were able to get the fire out. 

Classes were in session at the current Cooper Elementary School - which is located just feet away, but because the fire posed a moderate threat, there was a safety plan in place.

"We had a plan in place of how we would evacuate, and where we would evacuate to in case we needed that," said Gordon.

The new school was near 88 percent completion. Gordon says construction will be delayed but he won't know by how much until it's further investigated.

"Our heart really does go out for the community as far as the schools are so important to the community, and to see something like this happen is just really tough," said Panger.

The Superior Fire and Police Department's are investigating the cause of the fire. Arson is not suspected. 

The Duluth News Tribune says the school had been slated to open this fall.

Copyright 2018 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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