By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
The 40-year-old plank wood building which served as Gasquets Mountain School was completely gutted by fire just after midnight Friday morning.
Some students and parents stood around the charred remains yesterday morning as if at the funeral of a loved one.
Its weird. I was just sitting in one of these classrooms a month ago, said Chris Sargent,14, who graduated from Mountain Schools eighth-grade class last spring.
Inside the fire-ravaged building, science lesson kits, melted from the heat, were still draped over each desk in one classroom in preparation for school to start next Monday.
We just got a new computer last year and now its melted. And we had a bunch of four-foot-tall trophies in there from basketball tournaments that are burnt. Its really sad, said Erik Burlingame, who also graduated eighth-grade last spring.
It appears the fire started in the covered play area thats part of the old school building, said Gasquet Fire Chief Buzz Parlasca.
That covered area is bordered by three classrooms, a kitchenette, and restrooms all of which burned.
Investigators from the California Division of Forestry were performing a formal examination Friday morning. No results of that investigation have been announced.
I believe well have it straightened out here in a short time, Parlasca said. All I can say is it appears to be suspicious circumstances.
Sounding the alarm
Two families who live near the school said they saw a small group of teen-agers enter the grounds with a loud radio around 12:30 a.m.
Id just gone to bed and heard a boom box, said Glen Bartley.
They were there for about 20 minutes. Ten minutes after that I saw flames coming through the roof, he added.
Phone lines were burned by the flames, according to Bartley, so he and other neighbors had to run to the home of Parlasca to alert him.
Once on the scene, Parlasca and about 20 crew members from both Smith River and Gasquet Fire stations knocked down the blaze within 45 minutes, he said.
We had a hard time, because it was so hot. This is an older structure so theres no drywall, its all wood. When we came in there was fire rolling over the tops of our heads, said Parlasca.
A maintenance crew from the Del Norte County Unified School District was boarding up the schools windows and other openings yesterday morning.
How the district will accommodate Mountain Schools 64 students is yet to be decided.
At 2 p.m., Monday Aug. 20, district officials will meet with parents and teachers at Gasquet Bible Church to share ideas.
Also on Monday, the school board will hold an emergency meeting at 7 p.m. to consider options developed by past Principal Jeff Napier and incoming Principal Dennis Burns.
Some Gasquet residents at the school yesterday said they are angry after a summer full of vandalism and a lack of action taken by the Del Norte County Sheriffs Department to stop it.
It was apathy and a lack of accountability over the long run that burnt this school down, said Bartley.
Tired of vandalism
Nylia Sargent, whose son and daughter attend Mountain School, said several incidents of vandalism have happened at the school this summer, but nothing has been done.
Were tired of calling the sheriff and not getting anyone to come up here, Sargent said.
Two other adult residents on the scene echoed Sargents frustration.
If theres no enforcement of the law, there is no law. And the kids know the cops arent going to come, said Bartley.
The schools neighbors said recently the flagpole was ripped out of the ground and rabble-rousers have been drinking and smoking at the school at night.
If the police had done their job the first or second time, this probably wouldnt have happened, Sargent added.
Commander George Mina of the sheriffs department said his office treats Gasquet the same as the rest of the county.
If somebody reports a crime, we send someone to investigate it, just like anywhere else, Mina said.
Even before the fire happened, citizens of Gasquet had planned a town hall meeting for Sept. 11 at the American Legion Hall to discuss solutions to what they call the lack of law enforcement.
Now that this has happened, I think a lot of people are going to be at that meeting, said Sargent.