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Blaze burns Crowell School classrooms
Crowell fire pic1
Thick, black smoke fills the sky on Tuesday afternoon as students at Crowell Elementary School evacuate due to a fire in a classroom under construction. - photo by ANDREA GOODWIN / The Journal

Construction for a modernization project at Crowell Elementary School ignited a fire inside an empty classroom wing, prompting a school-wide exodus onto the adjacent ball field and track.

Thick, black smoke could be seen billowing up into the clear blue sky just after 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, raising the alarm in the parents en route to the school to pick up their children.

“I was coming to pick up my son from kindergarten and I could see smoke up in the sky,” said Jennifer Ward, the mother of three Crowell students. “Traffic was all backed up and I could see the police cars and the flashing lights and I was so worried about my kids. I felt like I was having a heart attack. When I found them all safe I was so relieved.”

All the children and the campus staff were accounted for and no injuries were reported, said Turlock Police spokesman Sgt. Steve Webb.

Within minutes after the fire was reported the fire department had dispatched all fire engines and personnel to the school, located at the corner of Hawkeye Avenue and Crowell Road, to do battle with the blaze.

The fire was brought to containment in about 30 minutes and completely extinguished about one hour after the fire was first reported.

Turlock police officers were also on scene to assist with crowd and traffic control.

The classroom wing is undergoing a modernization project to turn it into a library lab and was completely empty of students, said Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.

It’s suspected a spark from the work being done in the classrooms ignited the insulation and started the fire.

The fire is believed to have originated in the attic space above the classrooms, Webb said.

There were no estimates on the amount of damage caused by the fire or the cost to repair it.

The school district used their reverse directory to notify parents about the fire. The district opted to release the students at their regularly scheduled times to avoid any added confusion, Da Marto said.

The school’s fire escape plan, which is practiced once to twice a month, was followed to the letter by the staff and the students, Da Marto said.

“Everyone involved, from the fire department to the police department and the staff and students did a great job,” Da Marto said.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.