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Officials say Pa. church school fires were set

June 06, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Fire investigators believe four fires at the Cumberland Valley Christian School in Chambersburg were deliberately set Wednesday morning.

"We are investigating it as an arson," said Trooper Skip Sydnor, fire marshal with the Pennsylvania State Police in Chambersburg.

The fire was discovered at 4:21 a.m. by a school parent who was walking a dog nearby, according to school and fire officials.

The Franklin Fire Co. was the first to arrive at the school at 600 Miller St., and found a fire in the computer room in the rear of the school and three fires outside the building, Sydnor said.

One of the fires was in a storage trailer, one was outside a propane tank and one was in a pile of lumber being used for new construction.

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There was little fire damage to the interior of the school, but heat melted the computers and destroyed the lab, Sydnor said.

"There was no structural damage up in the ceiling of the computer room because the firemen got to is so quick," said the Rev. Carl McKee, principal of the school.

Fire destroyed the items in the storage trailer but did little other damage.

All told, damages were estimated at $150,000, Sydnor said.

Officials said they were thankful the outcome wasn't worse.

The fire set near the propane tanks did not cause them to explode but instead raced up the wall, Sydnor said.

"Someone set the tanks on fire. Fortunately they are not as easy to explode as some people think," he said.

It took several hours to make sure all four fires were out, and most of the fire departments in Franklin County responded, he said.

This was the second incident at the school this week. On Tuesday, a fire was set in the back of the building where new construction is under way. That blaze caused about $5,000 damage, McKee said.

Sydnor said there were no suspects in either arson.

"We trust the person will be found and stopped," McKee said.

McKee said the computers were going to be replaced with new ones this year, although the 25 destroyed were to go to the elementary classrooms.

A few printers and some textbooks were also ruined.

"It could have been far worse if the firemen had not done the great job they did," McKee said.

The school was closed for the summer. The 375 students in kindergarten through 12th grade wrapped up classes last Friday, he said.

He said parents and students have volunteered to help clean up the building once the insurance company and fire investigators are through.

"Everyone is ready to pitch in," said McKee, who has been a school administrator since it opened 28 years ago. "The main thing we need is prayers."

He said he had no idea how long repairs would take but was confident the school would open on time in August.

The school is behind the Open Door Church outside the borough limits.

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