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Overnight Fire in Fayetteville Sparks Concerns About Portable Classrooms

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FAYETTEVILLE — Cumberland County Schoolsuse more than 240 portable classrooms. School leaders hope that number will drop to 100 within two years, as a result of new construction. But an overnight fire in one of those classrooms has ignited concerns about their safety now.

Around 2:30 a.m., a motorist saw flames pouring out of the building behind the Cape Fear High School. The fire was sparked by baseboard heaters, that should not have been left on overnight in two of the huts.

Baseboard heaters are in about one-third of all the portable classrooms. This was the second fire caused by a baseboard system in 30 years.

Officials say the units are safe.

Stacks of notebooks were placed near the heat ducts. There were holes all along the back walls of one of the huts, and students had stuffed potato chip wrappers, notebook paper and other combustibles inside the holes.

Associate superintendent Tim Kinlaw says more efforts will be made to remind students and staff not to leave things near the heaters when they are on. He says those precautions will help teachers and children stay out of harm's way.

"We'll have to enforce our training and enforce our existing procedures to make sure we have minimal clearance from those heaters, that staff, custodial and students are aware that those units are combustible if you leave coats, books, paper on those units," Kinlaw says.

The classrooms have direct doors to the exterior of the building, and secondary exits from the windows. "Any kids could be vacated in 15 to 20 seconds in case of an emergency, and of course those students practice fire drills every month," he says.

Efforts are under way to replace the old heaters with centralized heat and air conditioning.

No one was injured in the fire, which was put out quickly.