British Columbia

'A lot of memories there': Community reacts to loss of Kamloops school after fire

A day after a fire destroyed Parkcrest Elementary School in Kamloops, students, parents and grandparents gathered to take in the new reality — and pay tribute to the school and its staff.

Parkcrest Elementary 'a complete loss,' school board chair says

Parkcrest Elementary was completely destroyed in a fire that broke out at 5:15 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 5. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

A day after a fire destroyed Parkcrest Elementary School in Kamloops, students, parents and grandparents gathered to take in the new reality — and pay tribute to the school and its staff.

Heart-shaped balloons and hand-drawn signs expressing love and support were fixed to the school's fence, just beyond where the destroyed school sat.

"I was really upset last night," said student Olivia Kooistra. "I wanted to spend my last year here and now I'm not going to be able to," she said.

Denise Beenen was with her granddaughter at the school Friday. She said her sisters went to the school when it originally opened in the 1960s, followed by her sons and now her grandchildren.

Beenen's granddaughter, who was just starting Grade 6, said she was in shock when she heard the news.

 "I don't know where all of us are going to go," said Kira Beenen. "I don't know if I get to see my friends again, and it's really sad and upsetting, because we have a lot of memories there." 

More than 30 firefighters responded to the fire at Parkcrest Elementary School. The cause of the fire is still being investigated. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

The fire at Parkcrest Elementary School burned out of control for hours after it broke out around 5:15 p.m. PT on Thursday. 

Thick black smoke and orange flames could be seen coming from the rooftop from blocks away as firefighters worked to save the building. By dusk, at least one portion of the school had collapsed.

Kamloops Fire Rescue assistant chief Steve Robinson said no one was injured and no nearby buildings were threatened. The school district said three staff members — one teacher and two custodial workers — were in the building at the time but escaped safely.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

"I just feel for the hours and hours of heart and love the teachers put into the school and our community. It's just a huge loss," said parent Timia Ross.

School board chair Kathleen Karpuk said the school is destroyed. 

"We believe it's going to be a complete loss, unfortunately. We're devastated," she said."We knew within a very short time frame that we had probably lost the school and we know that for sure now."

Students of Parkcrest Elementary School will be off school the week of Sept. 9 while officials come up with a new plan for the school year. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

B.C.Education Minister Rob Fleming said Friday he was devastated to watch the school, with its decades of memories and educational excellence, go up in flames.

"The province of British Columbia will help Kamloops district rebuild that school as soon as we can," said Fleming.

Families are being asked to make alternative arrangements for supervision of their children starting Friday and into the next week. The local SPCA and art gallery have both created week-long camps for Parkcrest students while they are off school the week of Sept. 9. 

Parents are asked to check the school's website for more updates as they become available. 

With files from Rihanna Schmunk and Doug Hebert

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