RICHMOND, Va. -- Firefighters did not notice any fire or smoke at Fox Elementary School when they were called for an alarm at the building just over an hour before crews returned to fight a fire that caused "catastrophic damage" Friday night.
An alarm went off at Fox Elementary, along the 2300 Hanover Avenue, just before 9:30 p.m. Friday, according to dispatch records.
Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter told reporters Saturday the department is not certain if it was a fire alarm, a motion detector or a burglar alarm. He said they are still investigating what type of alarm was triggered.
"Can you get in touch with a school representative and have them to this location?" a first responder said via emergency communications.
The chief said fire crews responded, gained access to the building by letting themselves in and searched the building.
He said they stayed and investigated for nearly 42 minutes, which means they left around 10:10 p.m., and did not notice any fire or smoke while there.
"Building is secure. No other hazards in the building," crew members can be heard saying via emergency communications. "Truck 3 and Engine 12 returning to service."
Carter said they were then dispatched back to the building for a fire call at 10:40 p.m. and found the structure on fire.
"Once on scene, they encountered heavy smoke and flames coming from the top floor above the main entrance. The fire was quickly spreading across the top of the structure," Richmond Fire spokesperson Amy Vu wrote in an email."At approximately 11:09 p.m., parts of the roof began to collapse, so all crews were evacuated from the interior."
The fire was marked under control at about 2:44 a.m.
"Crews will be on scene through the morning to monitor hotspots," Vu said. "No injuries have been reported."
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
In an email to parents, Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras asked the community to pray for Fox Elementary families, students, and staff.
The school will be closed Monday and Tuesday before shifting to virtual learning. School leaders are working to figure out which RPS property the Fox community will call home as the damage to the historic building is assessed.
"We are looking at a couple of options," Kamras explained. "One of those is Clark Springs Elementary, which we sometimes use as swing space. We're exploring the feasibility of that right now, but because it's going to take a little bit of time, we're switching over to virtual in the meantime."
Principal Daniela Jacobs said that the loss of the 110-year-old building, which has been the foundation of education for thousands of young people, does not diminish the school's spirit.
"It's not about a building,” Jacobs said. “The Fox spirit lives within each and every one of us in this community. We will manage this together."
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