June 9, 2003 – Fire investigators and school officials worked side by side on Monday trying to deal with the aftermath of a fire that erupted at Charlotte Amalie High School Sunday night while Class of 2003 commencement exercises were under way at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.
Authorities said the fire broke out around 8:20 p.m. Sunday in Room 239 of Building C, the office of Assistant Principal Barbara Callwood. Two adjacent rooms subsequently sustained heavy smoke and water damage, they said.
St. Thomas Deputy Police Chief Elvin Fahie Sr. said in a release issued on Monday that police arriving on the scene Sunday night found the room "engulfed in flames" and called the Fire Service. Fahie also said that "no determination was established for the cause" of the fire and that the investigation was continuing.
On Monday, St. Thomas-St. John Fire Chief Merwin Potter said that because there were no signs of forced entry into the administrator's office, arson was not likely the cause of the fire.
"We are wrapping up our formal report right now," Potter said. "We've already been through a process of elimination as to arson. Tomorrow, or the day after, we should have a formal report as to everything that's involved in that fire."
Ironically, a number of teachers in closing down their classrooms for the summer had chosen to move their computers and other electronic gear into Callwood's office because the area was considered secure. The fire destroyed several computers and television sets along with software for a new CAHS reading program, authorities said. Also destroyed were next school year's course schedules for students now finishing ninth grade.
Investigators were looking on Monday at the possibility that an overloaded electrical circuit or an appliance that was left plugged in and overheated might have caused the fire. According to Potter, the fire burned for some time before finally engulfing the entire office.
Firefighters from the downtown Charlotte Amalie fire station were the first to respond to the 911 call Sunday night. "When those guys got there, they immediately called for help," Potter said on Monday. "They called for assistance from the Dorothea fire station and the Tutu fire station. Apparently the fire was burning for quite some time before it made its way through the existing building."
CAHS Principal Jeanette Smith asked on Monday that all ninth graders return to the school "to complete course advisement a second time" because "records on the courses selected for the school year 2003-2004 were destroyed in the fire."
Course advisement will be held Thursday and Friday, she said. Those ninth graders in Teams H and A are to report at 1 p.m. Thursday. Students in Teams W and K are to report at 9 a.m. on Friday.
Report cards will be distributed on Friday at 10 a.m., Smith said, and registration for summer school will begin on Saturday.
Those seeking additional information are asked to call the school at 774-0780.
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