Thunder Bay

Chief fears students could lose year after school fire

Nearly 400 children in Sandy Lake First Nation can't go to class after a fire at their elementary school.

Fire officials assess damage to Sandy Lake First Nation school

Nearly 400 children in Sandy Lake First Nation can't go to class after a fire at their elementary school. Sunday's fire caused extensive damage to the electrical and heating systems at Thomas Fiddler Memorial School, which serves students from Kindergarten to Grade 6. Chief Adam Fiddler said it's not clear yet if — or when — any part of the building can be used again.

"If it looks like it's going to be some time," Fiddler said. "If it looks like we've lost the building for the rest of the school year, we'll have to look at other options. But, at this point, we don't have any other buildings that would be adequate."

He noted the fire burned through the furnace room and the electrical system, and said he thought there may be structural damage. The building has been sealed off as investigators — including the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office — look into the cause of the blaze.

High school overcrowded

When the fire broke out, many of the school’s students were away from the community at a hockey tournament. When they came home to a destroyed school, the news was "very upsetting," Fiddler said.

The community's high school can't accommodate the younger students because it's already overcrowded, he added. With no other building available, the school year could be put in jeopardy. The First Nation is looking at rebuilding the school and has already contacted Aboriginal Affairs.

Greg Rickford, the MP for Kenora and junior Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, said he's ready to help make sure children in Sandy Lake can go to school — even though he said it's not clear yet whether any part of the school building can be salvaged.

"We're going to work co-operatively and take direction from the education authority and the chief and council to look at what — if any — options on the short term can be put in place to ensure the kids’ school semester is as uninterrupted as possible," Rickford said.

The Nishnawbe-Aski Police said the fire broke out Sunday afternoon in an area around a storage and supply room. They said they were notified about the school fire through an anonymous report.

The community's volunteer fire service is being credited with getting the fire out and keeping it from spreading through the whole school.