The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


June 18, 2014

Fire destroys St. Mary's Roman Catholic Elementary School

MARION HEIGHTS — It was a matter of time until a fire would take down the old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Elementary School, residents and officials of Marion Heights said Wednesday while observing the twisted and charred remains of the circa-1920s building.

Vacant since the 1960s, the building had become the owner’s repository for construction material and a hangout for those indulging in smoking and underaged drinking, residents said. On Tuesday at about 10:45 p.m., the school went up in flames, a three-alarm blaze that brought out firefighters from Northumberland and Schuylkill counties.

No one was hurt in the fire, but high wind made for flying embers that threatened nearby homes. Firefighters doused roofs with water as far away as a block from the scene.

The fire itself destroyed the three-story building, gutting the wooded floors and insides while leaving the brick outer walls intact. Brian Hollenbush, police chief and fire marshal for Mount Carmel Township, said the cause remains undetermined, the extent of the damage too great to investigate just yet.

Fire rekindled twice at the scene Wednesday at 4:40 and 7:15 a.m., he said. Hollenbush does believe the blaze began in the gymnasium, which was an addition behind the school.

The owner was at the scene Tuesday, Hollenbush said, but doesn’t know if he had insurance on the building. A township code enforcement official put up neon-orange “danger” signs at the scene today, warning people away from the building.

Krystal Klinger, who lives less than 50 feet from the building, was among those at the scene Wednesday morning. She also had taken to hosing down her house to protect it, she said.

“It was scary,” she said. “I smelled smoke and took a look out front, and saw the whole thing just going up.” Klinger was among residents and motorists who called 911 after seeing the fire.

Klinger also said the clock was ticking on the building’s safety. “There were always kids trespassing,” she said, “and he had a lot of stuff in there.” She also feared that litters of kittens born to stray cats in the building were lost.

Borough Manager John  Janaskie said the building was dilapidated and crumbling from age and neglect. The owner “left the building fall apart,” he said.

Hollenbush said township officials will work to raze the building quickly, given the safety issues surrounding it. “There is nothing to salvage there,” he said.

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