Blaze burns through Menlo Park school

A private school in Menlo Park was closed Thursday after an early morning fire destroyed a building that housed a third-grade classroom and several administrative offices.

Fire Inspector Jon Johnston said the fire was reported at 3:52 a.m. when a passerby noticed smoke coming from Beechwood School, a non-profit school of 170 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Johnston said that shortly after arriving on the scene, firefighters battled the blaze from outside after determining that the roof could – and indeed, did – collapse.

The damage is estimated at $300,000.

Johnston said the firefighters brought the fire under control within two hours, but a little before 8 a.m., they were still battling hot spots.

After receiving a wake-up call from fire officials at 4:30 a.m., principal David Laurance said he rushed to the school – arriving to the scene of smoke and fire shooting through the school’s roof.

No other classrooms were affected by the blaze, but Laurance said the school will be closed until Monday. He is also faced with temporarily relocating the 18 third-graders whose classroom was destroyed.

Tiere Hodges, a 10-year-old fifth-grader who spent his third grade year inside the fire-ravaged classroom, said he was sad to see it destroyed because of all the good memories he had inside it:

“One of my favorite teachers works in that classroom and it’s sad to see it go away like that.”

One third-grade teacher lost all her classroom materials in the blaze. Laurance considers the teacher to be outstanding and dedicated to her profession.

He said he can only imagine how overwhelming it may be for her to start over:

“It’s got to be hard for her to think about losing everything she’s collected and created.”

The school announced on their website that the back-to-school picnic scheduled for Sept. 15 has been cancelled.

Johnston said the investigation into what caused the blaze will begin as soon as it is safe to inspect the remains of the building.

According to the school’s website, anybody interested in providing immediate financial assistance can contribute online or contact the California Family Foundation.