Faulty janitorial equipment likely caused Saturday’s fire that heavily damaged Strawberry Vale Elementary.(Photo courtesy Tamara Pillipow)

Faulty janitorial equipment likely caused Saanich school fire

Saturday morning fire damaged roof of Strawberry Vale Elementary

Portions of a Saanich elementary school may not reopen for use until after the official start of school following a Saturday fire likely caused by faulty janitorial equipment.

“Damage is extensive, costs will be extensive and depending on the school district’s [plan], it will certainly put that portion of the building out of use for sometime, may be into the start of the school year,” said Dan Wood, deputy fire chief with the Saanich Fire Department Sunday afternoon, when asked about the investigation into the fire that tore through the roof of Strawberry Vale Elementary.

The fire started Saturday morning with the primary damage in the school’s roof area, along with some smoke and water damage to the entry area of the building, said Wood.

While Wood could not put a final value on the damage, the investigation into the fire points towards the failure of a charging station for a mobile vacuum as the likely cause.

RELATED: UPDATED: Saanich firefighters investigate early morning fire at elementary school

“It was a spare battery being charged in the charging station,” he said. Either the battery failed or the charging station failed, he added. “That hasn’t been determined yet, but that was the likely cause of the fire. It subsequently burned some combustible material on the wall. That then carried up the wall and activated the fire sprinklers.”

But part of the fire made it past the sprinkler system, because of roof’s open-concept architecture, he said. “It [the roof area] is mostly left open and it was all combustible material. That is where he took off and burned through the roof area.”

It is not clear how many other pieces of comparable equipment the school uses. “Likely the school district is looking into that now,” he said. “They [school board officials] were on scene as well early in the morning. I’m sure they will be doing a full review of their equipment or any of their electrical appliances they are currently using in the school and making sure that fire suppression systems are tested and in full operation.”

Wood is also encouraging individuals to check any of their personal electrical equipment as lithium batteries have a history of over-heating, depending on the manufacturer.

Wood said the fire could have been a lot worse, given the time, as crews responded just after 4 a.m. “It was just fortunate that there were some passerbys that were noticing the heavy flames coming from the roof out of the skylight and informed the department,” he said.

Crews arrived within five minutes, he added. Three engines, a ladder and a rescue vehicle with a total of 18 firefighters responded, he said. “We did a good job,” he said.


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