- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
No one was injured, and programming has been rescheduled after a fire Wednesday night severely damaged the Lifelong Learning Center in Waldorf.
More than 100 firefighters and emergency personnel battled a two-alarm fire for several hours July 9 at the center on John Hanson Drive.
The fire, called in about 6:15 p.m., was caused by a lightning strike, Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department spokesman Jeff Duer said. He said the cause was determined based on the weather at the time of the fire, the severe thunderstorm watches in the area and witnesses hearing a loud sound and seeing smoke coming from the ceiling.
At the time of the fire, 80 people were inside the building and evacuated safely after hearing a loud noise and seeing smoke, Charles County Public Schools spokeswoman Katie O’Malley-Simpson said. The learning center is made up of portable classrooms and primarily used for adult education classes. It is next to John Hanson Middle School.
Duer said 112 firefighters from all of the volunteer stations in Charles County, and departments from St. Mary’s, Calvert and Prince George’s counties assisted on the call.
The fire, he said, was contained to one area of the portable classroom structure.
Containing the fire took place rather quickly, and Duer said the fire then took about two hours to control. Firefighters were on the scene for about five hours, he said.
Of the 36-classrooms that are part of the structure, 18 were a total loss.
Complications included many layers of drywall and roofing materials that were catching fire hampering the attack of the blaze from the inside as a roof collapse was imminent, he said. Firefighters worked the fire defensively from outside of the structure, Duer said.
Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Duane Svites confirmed the origin of the fire was a lightning strike and estimated damage at more than $500,000.
Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill said the school system was appreciative of all the firefighters and emergency medical services members who “take great care of our community.” Hill said it never fails to amaze her the turnout of volunteers who are always there “to protect people and protect property.”
She said she was alerted to the fire Wednesday evening, and her first thoughts were in regards to who was in the building, how many were in the building and was everyone able to get out safely.
She said losing a physical structure is never a good thing. However, she said, if there was a good thing to come of the incident it was that those inside the building at the time did the right thing.
Hill said all the safety drills and training staff go through worked, and everyone was able to get out safely.
Duer said early detection is key, and “in a multiple-occupancy building, pull the fire alarm on the way out and then call 911,” he said.
Before the smoke had cleared, the school system was on the move working to get programming back on schedule.
“Our concern moving forward is that we are able to seamlessly run those programs,” Hill said.
School staff met Thursday to discuss options for programs.
O’Malley-Simpson said Thursday afternoon that classes taking place at the learning center this summer will resume Monday, July, 14, at John Hanson Middle School. Students will be directed to their respective classrooms when they enter the building.
Hill said the school system is very proud of the adult education programming that takes place at the center and that the programs have received statewide recognition.
One portion of the portable classroom structure is used by John Hanson students during the school year, but school officials said that portion was not affected by the fire. Svites said that portion had some residual damage from water and smoke, but the Lifelong Learning Center portion of the structure was destroyed.