Nfld. & Labrador

Man charged after Milltown school, town hall, RCMP station burn

A man has been charged in connection with fires at several buildings in Milltown-Head of Bay d'Espoir on Newfoundland's south coast this morning.

'I'm lost for words. I can't really describe how I'm feeling. It's just shocking,' student says

The lower school went up in flames at Bay d'Espoir Academy in Milltown-Head of Bay d'Espoir, N.L., on Tuesday. (Rene Jeddore/Facebook)

A man is facing charges after fires ripped through a school, town hall and RCMP detachment in a small community on the south coast of Newfoundland.

Donald Craig MacHaight, a 48-year-old from Morrisville, faces three counts of intentional cause of damage by fire in connection with the blazes at key buildings in Milltown-Head of Bay d'Espoir.

MacHaight is suspected of deliberately setting fire to the Milltown-Bay d'Espoir town hall, the school (Bay d'Espoir Academy) and the Bay d'Espoir RCMP detachment.

Gary Hickman, a local town councillor, witnessed the blaze firsthand.   

"I live across the street and I was getting up for work, and my brother-in law is a volunteer firefighter, [and he] gave me a quick call and he said 'Look out the window, everything is on fire here,'" Hickman told CBC News Network.

Hickman said he could see flames coming from the school and smoke from the building that houses both the town hall and the fire department.

"The firemen went in to get their equipment to fight the fire down the road [at] the school, and they realized they had to come back because their building was also on fire."

According to a release by the Newfoundland and Labrador RCMP, police and volunteer firefighters were alerted to the fires around 4:40 a.m. NT.

Hickman said firefighters from six or seven communities along the coast quickly showed up to help fight the flames.

"All these people are all volunteer people," Hickman said. "The response was unbelievable."

Early Tuesday morning, firefighters surveyed the damage of a blaze that ripped through multiple buildings in the Milltown and Bay d'Espoir community. (Submitted by Samantha Kearley)

There are no known injuries and the damage to the buildings is being assessed, an RCMP statement said.

From his porch, Hickman watched the fire completely gut the town hall.

"They are severely damaged. The school is gonna be probably a writeoff, this one here is probably gonna be a writeoff and the RCMP [building], I think that could be put back together, but it's gutted inside."

There was no official word Tuesday on the extent of the damages.

Museum destroyed

The town hall building also housed the community museum.

"[It] was pretty well destroyed, be it by smoke, fire or water," Deputy Mayor Clarence Kelly says about the museum.
"That's basically going to be irreplaceable."

Kelly said the museum's collection was mostly made up of contributions from individuals.

"All the artifacts and that are pretty well done. They're gone."

Firefighters got all of the equipment out of the attached fire hall and it was unscathed, and also retrieved a small portion of the town hall's files, but there's no word on what exactly was salvaged.

An interior view of the damage to the Milltown town hall building. There was no estimate on the cost of damages. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"I guess we're gonna have to take it from there and see what we can get up and running in the next day or so," said Kelly.

In the meantime, the town council will operate out of a vacant office space provided by a local businessman.

Seeing but not believing

Melvin Ingram, president of the local Lion's Club, opened the community centre to assist the approximately 55 firefighters who were on the scene.  

Ingram told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show people woke up and couldn't believe what they were hearing.

Smoke billowed from fires in the school, town hall and fire hall in Milltown, as well as in the RCMP detachment in Head of Bay d'Espoir. (Submitted by Dan Jeddore)

Nathan Manuel, a Grade 9 student, watched firefighters attack flames as part of his school burned to the ground. 

"My father came in and woke me up and told me that the school was on fire," he said. "I didn't believe him at first, and I went and looked out the window, and was like, 'Holy Cow.' I couldn't believe it, I was stunned."

"I'm lost for words. I can't really describe how I'm feeling. It's just shocking."

Manuel said the building isn't just a school, it's a big part of the community.

"It's where we go to play organized sports, hang out, socialize with your friends, and when you lose something that big in the community, it's pretty rough," he said.

The first fire, at the school in Milltown, was reported to police just before 5 a.m. NT on Tuesday. (Submitted)

High school may be saved

Darrin Pike, director of education with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, suggested preliminary reports indicate the high school portion may not be damaged by fire, but would need work to repair smoke and water damage.

"We have a big chunk of our building that's destroyed. We're hoping that the high school section is still salvageable," he said.

"There's a lot of work yet to be done to say that section of the building is OK, but we're crossing our fingers."

Bay d'Espoir Academy has about 250 students who attend the school from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dale Kirby said in a statement his department has been in contact with school district officials and will "work closely with them to develop plans to continue to provide a high quality of education for students."

MacHaight, who Hickman said was found by police while walking down the street, is set to appear back in court Thursday afternoon for a bail hearing.

Milltown-Head of Bay D'espoir is on the south coast of Newfoundland. (CBC/Google Maps)

With files from Chris Ensing, CBC News Network, the St. John's Morning Show and CrossTalk