British Columbia

'Suspicious' fire forces evacuation of Chemainus Secondary School on Vancouver Island

Between 200 and 300 students and staff were evacuated from Chemainus Secondary School on Vancouver Island after a fire erupted in a second-floor student bathroom. Police say they're investigating the fire as suspicious.

No injuries in blaze under investigation as suspicious

Students and staff were evacuated from Chemainus Secondary School on Thursday morning due to a fire. (School District 79)

Around 350 students and staff at Chemainus Secondary School, located  about 80 kilometres north of Victoria, were safely evacuated around 9 a.m. this morning, after a fire erupted in a second-floor student bathroom.

The Cowichan Valley School District's director of communications, Mike Russell, says the cause and extent of the damage still unknown.

"When the fire department went in they encountered heavy smoke upstairs, but they were able to combat the fire and put it out," said Russell.

Martin Drakeley, North Cowichan's manager of fire and bylaw services, said four fire trucks from Ladysmith, Crofton and Chemainus departments arrived on scene to douse the flames. 

Police say fire is 'suspicious'

Because the smoke remained so thick, RCMP and fire inspectors weren't able to access the site until later in the day. They're now investigating the incident as suspicious. 

Cpl. Dave Starr of North Cowichan Duncan RCMP said police "are working with the school board and the local fire department to establish how and why this occurred and who was involved."

Robyn Gray, superintendent of the Cowichan Valley School District, said that while she's "concerned that this fire may have been deliberately set, I'm grateful that our students and staff were able to make it out of the building safety."

She told Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West that the building has been secured, and the incident was contained to the bathroom. Investigators do not yet know what caused the fire.

Gray said school staff will meet Friday to plan how to support students when they return to school on Monday, and that counselling staff will be available just in case.

"We should have the restoration company in [the school] first thing in the morning," she added.

Buses began arriving at the school at 11 a.m. Thursday to take students home via their regular routes. Friday classes are cancelled.

With files from Liz McArthur and All Points West