School was canceled on November 19 and 20 as crews scrambled to assess the damage and begin the clean up process.
The school is scheduled to reopen on November 26, after the Thanksgiving holiday, with all but the library and a few classrooms used for their regular purpose. Three classrooms will be moved to available rooms, including at the old LDS seminary building and in the Zenos Black building on the school campus.
“We are committed to opening the school on schedule,” said San Juan School District Superintendent Douglas Wright.
Two suspects from Blanding have been arrested in connection with the fire and a series of break-ins at Blanding-area schools. Deven W White, age 19, and Christopher Stolzer, age 22, both face five counts of third-degree felony burglary and two counts of second-degree felony arson.
They were being held in the San Juan County jail. Bail has been set at $45,000. White and Stolzer are both former students at the school.
Students and community members were in the building until midnight on the night of the fire. The school drama department presented a production that evening and a sports team had been in the library until late.
A 911 call about the school being on fire was received at approximately 4 a.m. on November 17. Crews from the Blanding, Monticello and Bluff fire departments responded to the call. It took approximately two hours for crews to control the blaze.
Officials stated that temperatures in the library exceeded 1,000 degrees when the fire had a “flash over”. The high temperatures charred the entire room. The flames were initially contained in the northeast corner of the library room. Officials confirm that the arsonists used an accelerant of some type, possibly kerosene.
The firewalls in the school, including masonry walls that extend to the top of the ceiling, kept the flames contained to the relatively small area of the library.
Officials expressed relief that such a massive fire, in the core of the school building, was contained to the library. Minor water and smoke damage impacted other areas of the school.
Crews will work through the week to prepare the building to accept students on November 26. A wall will be constructed to separate the library area from the rest of the school.
It is anticipated that the classrooms moved to adjacent areas will remain in their new locations for the remainder of the school year. A significant construction project will be required before the library can reopen.
Preliminary estimates are that the massive November 17 fire caused $500,000 in damage to the school and destroyed an additional $500,000 in books, supplies and equipment.
It is estimated that the library collection included 20,000 books and items, including instructional materials, books, multi-media items, and more.
In addition, several special collections were destroyed, including Native American, San Juan County, Blanding Schools, and other historic collections.
The school is part of the state Risk-Management system. As a result, the areas of the school lost in the fire, along with equipment and available collections, eventually will be replaced.
A number of groups and individuals have organized the SJHS Phoenix Project to donate items and supplies to the school. School officials are taking steps to identify the needs of the school in the interim, until the replacement process is complete. Email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The school was a beehive of activity on November 19 as school officials and contractors evaluated the damage and prepared for the next steps.
A number of Student Council members helped move books and equipment from the damaged rooms to their new locations. They are undaunted by the damage to the school.
While Student Body President Erin Hurst admits that the fire means change for San Juan High, she said that it could be a change for the better. “We are doing what we can to help out and move forward,” said Hurst.
The fire was the culmination of a series of breakings at Blanding-area schools over the past several weeks. It is believed the suspects were involved in all of the break-ins.
The first known break-in to San Juan High School was in mid-October. A window was broken near the gymnasium and the perpetrators made their way to the library, where they stole candy.
On November 2, a second incident occurred. Windows were broken near the main entrance to the building and perpetrators accessed administrative areas of the school, where they vandalized offices, ransacked desks, and stole a few small items. Once again, they also broke into the library and stole candy.
A third incident at San Juan High School occurred on November 15, two nights before the fire. It was similar to the other incidents, with windows broken to gain access, and administrative offices entered. The library suffered more damage, with books thrown to the ground and small fires started in two or three locations. The fires did not spread.
The Zenos Black building, adjacent to the main high school building, was also entered on November 15. Perpetrators broke windows and pried open file cabinets in the Special Ed areas of the building, with a few small items reported missing.
A third break-in of the night on November 15 took place at Albert R Lyman Middle School.
In total, school officials estimate the previous break-ins caused $10,000 to $15,000 in damage to the schools.
Surveillance equipment was installed at the San Juan High School library after the November 15 break-in, but it was destroyed in the fire on November 17.