Fire destroys maintenance building at Harper Charter School

HARPER – Fire destroyed the maintenance and welding shop at Harper High School Saturday, the day before graduation ceremonies.

Investigators suspect a utility vehicle caused the fire but the investigation remains underway.

Chief Jess Tolman of Vale Fire and Ambulance said the report of the fire came in at 11:20 a.m. Saturday, May 20, with flames showing. He said the high school’s groundskeeper and Superintendent Ron Talbot were on the grounds at the time and tried to extinguish the fire themselves.

Vale dispatched an engine, tanker and a medic rig. Tolman said he called for water tenders through mutual aid from Nyssa, Ontario and Fruitland as firefighters crested the hill on U.S. Highway 20 east of Harper and saw the smoke column.

Crews arrived at 11:46 a.m. and had the fire contained by 12:55 p.m. The building was destroyed, Tolman said.

Talbot said in an email that a neighbor to the school he identified as Larry Fisher aimed a large irrigation sprinkler on a building south of the maintenance shop. Fisher lives near the school.

The maintenance building is located behind the high school between two other buildings. Talbot said the damage included destruction of the school’s walk-in cooler and the stored food that supplies the cafeteria.

School officials decided to cancel school for the week. The last day of school was scheduled to be Thursday, May 25. Graduation ceremonies went ahead as planned on Sunday for seniors and on Monday for the eighth-grade graduation.

CORRECTION: The Vale fire chief is Jess Tolman. A previous version reported the incorrect first name. The Enterprise apologizes for the error.

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of a fire on Saturday, May 20, that destroyed the welding class building at Harper Charter School. (Malheur County Building Department/Adele Schaffeld)
A fire on Saturday, May 20, destroyed the building housing the maintenance and welding shop at Harper Charter School. The building is in the center of three blue-roofed structures in this aerial view of the school grounds. (Google Maps)

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