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December 7, 2012

Fire damages vacant WISD building

WEATHERFORD — The Weatherford fire marshal believes a homeless man’s activities in the basement of a vacant Weatherford ISD building likely led to a blaze late Wednesday night that destroyed the single-story structure.

Weatherford firefighters received a call of smoke in the area after 10 p.m. Wednesday and found heavy, thick, black smoke coming from the eaves of a single-story building in the 100 block of North Denton Street, officials said.

Emergency personnel shut down portions of surrounding streets, including North Denton, Line and Jameson as firefighters put out the fire and remaining hot spots until clearing the scene about 3:30 a.m.

Because of the age of the vacant structure and concern about the integrity of the roof, firefighters fought the fire defensively from the outside, Fire Chief Paul Rust said.

Though firefighters had a close call due to mechanical issues with a fire engine, no one was injured. In addition to Weatherford, Hudson Oaks, Willow Park, Central and Greenwood fire departments also responded.

Fire Marshal Bob Hopkins said he did not know the exact cause Thursday afternoon but does believe the fire originated in the basement of the school.

The building was originally constructed in 1923 as a two-room schoolhouse with a basement used for restrooms and had an addition in 1935, according to Hopkins.

A homeless man was staying there and found his way into the basement area, Hopkins said.

“He was not there when fire started, according to him,” Hopkins said, adding that the fire didn’t just start itself.

Because of the amount of debris in the basement and the safety issues presented to reach the area, Hopkins said they may not ever know the exact cause of the fire but said it’s most likely due to “user error.”

“I have a real concern with our homeless population that seems to be slowly growing and where they camp out,” Hopkins said.

A couple of years ago, Hopkins said, they dealt with a fire in an empty house that someone had been staying in.

Though the homeless use vacant structures for shelter, particularly in the winter, the concern is that some ways used to keep warm or cook food can be dangerous and present a fire hazard, according to Hopkins.

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