Peter Pitseolak High School in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, was destroyed by fire Sunday morning.
"I can still see that dark smoke coming out of that ground from my window," said Annie Manning, a former teacher in the community of about 1,400, around noon on Sunday.
Manning said the fire started around 10 p.m. Saturday and burned all night. She said people in homes nearby were asked to leave in case the fire spread.
Fred Schell, the community's former MLA, said the fire appeared to have stopped burning by 1 p.m. Sunday. He said only one of the school's walls remained standing. "It will be demolished," he said.
The fire comes just two and a half weeks into the new school year for about 150 students and 22 staff.
Schell said it will be impossible to bring in supplies by sealift to rebuild this late in the season. "I don't know where the kids are going to go to school because obviously the earliest [the school] is going to be rebuilt is next year."
"It's going to have a great impact because most of the students look forward to the school year and the teachers and staff," Manning said. "It's tragic."
Peter Pitseolak school was located right in the centre of town, and was often used for community events outside of school.
"It's a very emotional time for everybody," Manning said.
"We're all losing years of work, resources, items we have fundraised hard to get for our school and a little of ourselves in this fire," wrote a current teacher at the school, Christa Borden, on Facebook. "Colleagues, stay strong, we will unite and we will overcome."
Schell said the fire will have an impact on Cape Dorset beyond the loss of the school.
Qulliq Energy Corporation is planning a new power plant for the community, and Schell said Cape Dorset also needs a new health centre. He's worried that rebuilding the school will delay the other projects.
"It's a sad situation to see that happen," he said. "It ruins it for a whole bunch of kids."
The school is named for the Inuit photographer, carver and artist, Peter Pitseolak, whose photos and books documented the rapidly changing Inuit way of life.
Cape Dorset, on Baffin Island's southern coast, is home to about 1,400 people.