Investigation report into Fox Elementary fire sheds light on issues leading up to blaze

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Posted at 10:54 PM, Jul 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-01 23:11:19-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The fire investigation report into the fire that destroyed Fox Elementary School in February is shedding light on several issues discovered in the days before the fire broke out.

The Richmond Fire Department's initial investigation claims the Fox fire was accidental. They state the cause at this point is undetermined.

The 31-page report was obtained by CBS6 Friday night.

Richmond Fire Officials said they are at a pause in determining the cause because they aren’t able to access the area where the fire started until the City of Richmond and the insurance company investigation is complete.

According to the report, their initial findings indicate they believe the origin of the fire was somewhere on the second floor in the attic, classroom or auditorium area.

They said the fire was “ignited with ignition sources” they believe to be accidental. However, they don’t state by what, but ruled out cigarettes, candles, ignitable liquids and open flames.

Officials conducted an interview with the principal who told them she was aware of alarm panel issues and made a pest company aware of issues with rodents.

She says she was informed that “the building was infested with mice and the mice chewed through the wires in the attic area.”

She goes on to recount a story of electrical issues with the lights having stopped working in the building but then days later came back on their own.

The report also reveals more about the extent of alarm panel issues, suggesting there was a fire detector or alarm-related delay in the discovery of the fire.

It included that the fire alarm panel was in "trouble mode" and had no updated annual inspection report. The report also states that the fire alarm panel was placed on a 96-hour-test status by the principal that was set to expire on February 11, the day of the fire.

The report indicates that the school was notified on several occasions that there was a faulty signal coming from the panel. The principal told investigators she contacted RPS many times about the problem.

CBS6’s previous investigations found many RPS school buildings, including fox elementary, were never reprogrammed with the area code. Therefore, they could not dial 911 in case of an emergency.

However, a notice of violation letter included in this newly released report indicates both school officials and fire officials were aware since August of 2021 that Fox Elementary was in violation of eight Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Codes.

The violation indicates they needed to have it corrected by the end of September 2021.

However, the date corrected remains blank on this report. CBS6 has reached out to Richmond Fire and Richmond Public Schools to learn why it had not been completed, and what if any actions, Richmond Fire officials took when they didn’t meet that deadline.

This request was made after hours so CBS6 is still waiting for a request for comment.

CBS6 is still waiting to hear from the city and the insurance company on when their reports will be complete.

To read the full report, click here.



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