Arizona Republic, April 5, 1981

Arson Alleged in $5 Million Fire At Window Rock High School

FORT DEFIANCE - An early morning fire that officials believe was set to cover up a burglary destroyed Window Rock High School on Sunday. Damage is estimated at $5 million, school officials said. Classes will not be held today and Tuesday while school officials arrange to hold classes in surrounding community buildings, Assistant Superintendent Anselm Davis said.

Navajo tribal police said they believe the fire was started by burglars who ransacked the band room and attendance office. Officials speculated that prowlers may have wanted to destroy school records. Two juveniles and one adult were held for questioning in connection with the fire, but police refused to reveal their names.

The fire started about 5 a.m. in the attendance office. It destroyed administrative offices, student records, counseling offices and laboratories,

Davis said. About 35 firefighters from five departments battled the blaze before it was brought under control at 10:30 a.m., said Fire Chief Pete Belletto. "The blaze spread rapidly through the ceiling and had burned much of the building when the men arrived," he said. About 1,000 high school students from Window Rock, Oak Springs, Fort Defiance and Ganado are enrolled in the school, which was built in 1959. Nearly 94 percent of the students are from the Navajo Reservation, Davis said.

"The loss of the school will have a devastating effect on the district," Davis said. "Teaching will be disrupted when the district relocates the

students and the classes." He said classes will be held in surrounding community buildings, nearby middle-school facilities and portable classrooms. Loss of the student records, including high school transcripts, will make it difficult for seniors to go on to college, Davis said. "It is like the past went up with the the school," he added.

Drifting Sands
April 23, 1981

Flames Destroy Main Building
by Joe Stibora
Drifting Sands News Editor

Despite the destruction of 10 classrooms and all major high school offices, only two days of school were lost following a fire which burned the interior of the Window Rock High School main building April 3.

The day after the Sunday morning fire, teachers, some students and school maintenance personnel began working to set up temporary classrooms which are being used for the remainder of this school year.

The faculty and staff met Monday morning in the field house to make plans; then began work to build six classrooms in the cafeteria which is separate from the main building and was unharmed by the fire.

The principal and vice principal set up offices in partitioned space in the library. Counseling offices were set up in the TV production room and even the rifle range was called onto use for the art class.

Student transcripts and class schedules burned in the fire which started near the counseling, attendance and registrar’s office. Dr. Kenneth Ross, superintendent, said, “Only parts of some records were saved.” Even duplicate transcripts in the “fire proof” vault burned when it turned out only the walls were concrete: the ceiling was asphalt composition. Because the fire moved through the roof, the vault contents had no chance.

Mr. Lehaman Burrow, principal, said afterward. “I walked into the vault and looked up through the ceiling at the sun.”
Dr. Ross said the main building should be considered “100 percent damaged.” He said that he will propose that any new funding go to the construction of a new school at a new site.

A new school has been in the discussion stage for some time. At the present, two sites are being considered” one is by Black Rock and the other is by the FHA housing area.

Dr. Ross said an Albuquerque firm has been surveying the areas and will submit it’s recommendation soon.

As soon as the fire had been reported, Mr. Pat Graham, coordinator of federal programs, was called to Washington, D.C., to look for money. His report, which was relayed to Dr. Ross, said that “a majority of the funds from the Department of Education was already allocated. Dr. Ross said that “a lot of political pressure will be needed to get some money.”

Also helping is Mrs. Carolyn Warner, Arizona superintendent of Public Instruction. Dr. Ross said that Ms. Warner is trying to get a delegation of Arizona and New Mexico congressmen together to help channel funding to the school.

After finishing the year in the temporary classrooms, it is anticipated the high school will consist of the present buildings and some more portable building “next year and the year thereafter”. The 10 classrooms destroyed represent about 25 per cent of the high school total. Most of the classrooms are in portable buildings, temporary buildings and the “tin sheds” separate from the main building.

The fire started early Sunday morning April 3. The small Fort Defiance fire department arrived at 5:23am, but with limited equipment could do little to stop the fire progress.

Trucks from Navajo, 13 miles away, Ganado and Gallup, each about 30-35 miles away, arrived and slowed up the fire which moved through the asphalt roof.

Finally, huge tanker trucks from Pittsburgh-McKinley coal mine arrived and literally drowned the remnant of the fire.

While the fire moved through the roof giving out more smoke than flame, students, teachers, and other volunteers saved band instruments, janitorial supplies and art equipment by carrying them out of the back of the building before the fire reached those areas.

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