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Agents probe cause of 'spectacular' school fire

Posted July 2, 2009

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— Preliminary evidence doesn't indicate arson, but investigators haven't ruled out anything else as the cause of a fire that seriously damaged Douglas Byrd Middle School overnight, said Debbie Tanna, a spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office

Crews battle blaze at Fayetteville school Crews battle blaze at Fayetteville school

The fire started in the gym, at 1616 Ireland Drive, around 10 p.m. Wednesday, quickly spread to the cafeteria and caused the roof to cave in, Tanna said. No one was hurt.

The ash- and soot-covered school grounds, combed over by insurance adjusters and State Bureau of Investigation agents, were an active crime scene Thursday. That is standard procedure and doesn't necessarily imply criminal activity, Tanna said.

"They're going around collecting any kind of evidence that might tell the tale of what happened here last night," Tanna said.

Investigators found remnants of fireworks in an outside corridor between the cafeteria, gym and main building Thursday morning. The gym and cafeteria were also under renovation and getting new roofing.

Investigators' task will be made more difficult by the amount of debris. The gym was full of chairs, desks and other materials teachers had stored there during the renovations.

"This was such a spectacular fire, and it's still very hot in areas," Tanna said. "It’s been inaccessible to firefighters and SBI agents to go in and see exactly what happened."

Tanna said the gym was a total loss and the cafeteria had a lot of water, smoke and fire damage.

School officials said they haven't been able to see the damage close-up but are hopeful that the classrooms were spared extensive damaged. If that's the case, the school will be able to open as scheduled on Aug. 25 for approximately 650 seventh- and eight-graders.

"That we would not have to displace students is certainly our hope," said Wanda McPhaul, a spokeswoman for the Cumberland County school system.

Principal Vanessa Alford said she is concerned about the teachers who lost all they were storing in the gym.

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  • Rolling Along Jul 2, 2009

    If WRAL really wanted to fill in details...what type of roof system and who was putting it on? Why keep mentioning fire works on the outside patio? Typical third grade reporting effort.

  • working for deadbeats Jul 2, 2009

    soccermom, you beat me to it! That word has been beat to death on here.

    I got probed once, but it was by aliens and it was not fun.

  • wcumom Jul 2, 2009

    spectacular?????? What made it so spectacular???????

  • soccermomof2guys Jul 2, 2009

    WRAL...I am so sick of your use of the word "probe" get a thesaurus!!!!