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Fire blazes through Willoughby-Eastlake Board of Education building; classes cancelled Wednesday

Posted at 5:31 AM, Mar 14, 2017

Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools will be closed Wednesday after a fire ripped through their Board of Education building. 

Superintendent Steve Thompson said the fire destroyed files and all communication software. 

"We have no way to access internet or phone calls," he said during a Tuesday morning press conference. 

The building is non-repairable, Thompson said. 

Early morning blaze

According to fire officials from the Willoughby Fire Department, the call originally came in from the building's fire alarm. But when crews arrived on the scene, the building was already fully engulfed in flames on multiple floors.

Fire crews from 12 departments responded to the early morning Tuesday blaze.

The Willoughby Fire Chief, Todd Ungar, told News 5's Meg Shaw firefighters battled flames inside the building for about 40 minutes before it became unsafe for first responders. 

He said the fire spread quickly throughout the more than 100-year-old building causing the floors to collapse.

"Once the wind took ahold of that attic space then it got up into the attic, it just basically forced everybody out. We started fighting a losing battle," Ungar said. 

Winter weather

The wicked winter weather and cold temperatures also made it difficult for fire crews to put out the fire.

"They're coming out and their coats are immediately is freezing up and regulators on their faces are freezing up, everything is just freezing up immediately," Ungar added.

But said, "We're a team and that's how it works. Other departments come in and it doesn't matter what the name on the back of the coat is, we're here to help each other out. Whose city it happens in makes no difference to us."

The fire just after 12:00 a.m on Tuesday morning and was put out close to 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

Ungar said officials will remain on the scene Tuesday to assess the damage inside. 

He said they will go through the building with the school district leaders to determine what is salvageable. According to officials, documents, files and computer servers were kept in the historical building. 

There is no word yet on what caused the fire. 

Effects of the fire

District officials said the fire could have residual effects long after the rubble is cleared. 

The fire, complicated to fight because of inclement weather, destroyed the district's computer servers, the communications system, and thousands of files.

According to fire officials, the building isn't a total loss, but likely isn't repairable. 

Superintendent Thompson wouldn't say if there are files that may not be backed up, but he did say that most of them are. However, it could take awhile to make proper copies. 

"I think we are going to spend the next several months trying to replicate those documents and get those back in place, which we can, but it's going to be an arduous process," he said. 

He explained grades, scholastic records, attendance, and any information crucial to graduation was all backed up. 

Willoughby-Eastlake schools will move district operations, temporarily, into the School of Innovation. 

"We are in the process of seeing what, if anything, we can recover."

REPLAY: On Tuesday afternoon, Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools gave an update on the fire at the Board of Education building.