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Fire shuts down Dickinson high school; classes in limbo after Monday morning blaze

All entrances to Trinity High School, including these at the front entrance, were taped off Monday morning after a fire. Classes are canceled the rest of the week as an investigation continues. (Katherine Lymn / Forum News Service)

A fire that broke out early Monday at Trinity High School in Dickinson led to extensive damage to the building and the cancellation of classes for at least the rest of the week, Dickinson Catholic Schools leaders said.

Dickinson Fire Department chief Robert Sivak said a call for service came in at 1:15 a.m., leading to several vehicles and 29 firefighters responding to the scene. Sivak said the department got the fire under control shortly after 3 a.m.

“There was so much smoke and steam in there — you literally couldn’t see anything,” Sivak said. “We probably won’t be able to get in the building again until (Tuesday).”

Sivak added that no injuries were reported as a result of the blaze, though Dickinson Catholic Schools vice president Rev. Patrick Schumacher said the building caused serious damage to the school.

“We know that there is extensive damage to the main floor, as well as the structural integrity of the upper floors being compromised,” Schumacher said. “We also know that there is extensive smoke damage throughout the entire school. We are just thankful there were no injuries. Our first priority now is to resume instruction.”

During an emergency DCS Board of Education meeting Monday afternoon, the decision was made to cancel classes for at least the rest of the week. Schumacher said school officials are actively seeking out alternative plans — and possible alternative locations — that would enable classes to resume after this week.

“I’m not an expert on fire damage, but my guess is that —for the rest of this school year — it will be very prohibitive to conduct anything in that building,” Schumacher said. “From what I saw this morning, it would be difficult. The main office was destroyed, along with everything that goes along with a main office. In the east and west wings of the school, there is heavy smoke damage. Many of the textbooks and materials may not be burnt but they could, in my estimation, be unusable.”

Trinity High School religion teacher Robert Storey — who lives in an apartment at the school — said he was awakened by an alarm in the middle of the night.

“I went over to the principal of the high school’s house, which is across the street,” Storey said. “If I hadn’t woken up, the whole building would have gone up. I’m sure there will be a lot of smoke damage, but we won’t be able to get back in there until they’re done investigating. It really stinks that this happened, but nobody was hurt. It’s a challenge that we’re going to have to work through, but I’ve already seen a lot of support from the community.”

Since he won’t be allowed back into the school until it is inspected, Storey said he planned to stay at a friend’s house Monday night.

“They didn’t allow us into the building until a little after 5 a.m.,” DCS president Steve Glasser said. “I sat in a vehicle outside the building for nearly four hours until we were cleared to take a look. My first reaction was pretty emotional. You don’t really know until you get in there. Nobody was injured and that’s the most important thing.”

From pictures offered by Schumacher as a result of his time inside the school Monday morning, a significant amount of water could be seen on the building’s first floor. Doors to the school were roped off Monday morning with the obvious effects of a fire visible.

Glasser said the high school — which houses grades seven through 12 on its grounds — has about 250 students enrolled. The school opened in 1961.

It was also announced at Monday afternoon’s board meeting that the Region 7 girls’ high school basketball tournament, which had been slated to begin next Monday at Trinity’s Knights of Columbus Activities Center gymnasium, has been moved to Dickinson High School.

“We are reliant on the generosity of the leaders of this community right now,” Schumacher said. “Again, our first concern is about how we resume instruction. This is a shocking time in our history and there is great sadness right now. We are confident that we will rebuild and be better and stronger in the end. Right now, we have a lot of work to do.”

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