Whitehorse Daily Star

Faulty heat tape blamed for blaze

The January blaze that destroyed the Chief Zzeh Gittlit School in Old Crow was caused by tape that caught fire inside the building’s plumbing and heating system, the territorial fire marshal has concluded.

By Whitehorse Star on June 13, 1997

In his report, released Thursday, John Holesworth wrote that a heat trace tape, used to wrap water pipes to prevent them from freezing, likely failed and started to overheat some time before the Jan. 28 day of the fire.

When the tape failed, combustible material in the utilidor, which housed the school’s heating pipes, plumbing system and electrical pipe, caught fire in the centre section of the building.

Though students had to run outside without their coats and boots, no on was injured in the remote village of 290 people.

The fire marshal said there was an indication that some of the pipes in the utilidor were insulated with foam insulation, which is combustible, but that fact could not be verified on the scene. Most of the insulation found at the remains of the school on the day after the fire was non-flammable fibreglass material.

The Old Crow school was equipped with a sprinkler system. However, the system was frozen when the fire ignited, and it failed to turn on immediately.

The fire marshal concluded the sprinkler system had been charged last December and frozen. At the time, parts of the sprinkler had been damaged and replaced, but an ice blockage in its pipes was apparently not cleared.

Holesworth said the sprinkler system eventually thawed out from the heat of the expanding flames, but the electrical system powering the sprinkler was rendered useless by fire damage.

He commended the Old Crow volunteer fire department for its actions on the day of the fire. Several days of extreme cold and the location of the fire inside the utilidor prevented an effective defence from being mounted, he noted.

While the fire gutted the school, an adjacent teachers’ residence and a Department of

Renewable Resources office, the fire department did manage to save some other nearby buildings.

The cost of replacing the school has been pegged at around $10 million.

The Old Crow school has been three time unlucky, having been lost to fire in 1969, and again in December 1981.

By JOHN McHUTCHION Star Reporter

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