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East Millbrook Students Return to School Friday

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RALEIGH — East Millbrook Middle School students will return to campus Friday after a fire ripped through the eighth-grade wing of the school Tuesday evening. Seven investigators searched Wednesday for the cause of the fire that consumed 12 classrooms and heavily damaged the media center.

Assistant Fire Chief Earl Fowler said the cause of the fire is electrical and that it started in some heating components in the ceiling. It may have been smoldering for an hour before it was detected.

First faculty members were stunned by this devastating fire, then sad. Thrusday, the faculty, staff and volunteers armed themselves with an upbeat mood and firm resolve to get the school ready for students tomorrow.

They made room for four 8th grade classrooms and special education classrooms displaced by the fire.

Long term, the classrooms will probably be replaced with mobile classrooms.

The building did not have a sprinkler system. The associate superintendent said the fire was above where any sprinklers could be, so it would not have done any good.

School buildings are not required to have sprinklers because they are built to contain a blaze with certain walls and structures in the roof, and that did work well at East Millbrook Middle School.

"Twenty years of things are gone that teachers have worked towards to establish the kind of room and climate for their students that they wanted and that's gone," says principal Dana King.

Students have also lost books, desks, calculators, all the trappings that make a schooltheirschool.

"Most of the students in this building were eighth-graders," says school counselor Brenda Joyner. "Most of them have been at this school for three years. I think it's going to have an affect on them and their performance toward the end of the year."

Teachers met at Wakefield Elementary School Wednesday to decide whether they can clean up the rest of the school quickly and get the kids back on campus.

They decided to make Thursday a teacher workday, and resume teaching Friday to help students prepare for the state end-of-grade exams they'll take in two weeks.

Several teachers, who were working late, reported the fire at East Millbrook around 5:30 p.m. when they smelled smoke.

The fire tore through the building. The flames shooting through the roof were visible for miles.

"I couldn't believe how high the smoke and flames were shooting," says parent Teresa Cronin. "I mean you could just see the red flames shooting way up."

The black smoke pouring out was so thick, some witnesses thought they were looking at a tornado.

"We saw a big billowing cloud of smoke," Cronin said. "It looked like a tornado, and my youngest daughter said, 'It's a tornado. It's a tornado.'"

Students, teachers and parents watched in disbelief as 12 classrooms and a new media center burned. The fire destroyed everything inside, including 24 new computers.

"It's kind of sad because we just bought a new building two years ago, and now we have to build another one," said student David Wright.

Dozens of rescuers responded, battling smoke and flames for nearly two hours before the fire was brought under control.

"It breaks my heart," King said. "That's predominantly our eighth-grade classrooms, and they are going to graduate from East Millbrook in about five weeks. So this is definitely going to disrupt the end of the year and the activities we had planned."

The fire began just hours after the school closed for the day, though students were on the campus taking part in after-school sports. No one was injured.