Fire damages historic old Kenner High School

Updated: Feb. 19, 2018 at 7:19 AM CST
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KENNER, LA (WVUE) - A fire Monday morning heavily damaged the historic old Kenner High School.

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The Kenner Fire Department received a call at 12:32 a.m. from a concerned resident reporting that flames could be seen coming out of the old Kenner High School building, and firefighters were dispatched a minute later to the school at 1601 Rev. Richard Wilson Drive.

According to the report, responding firefighers found the high school fully involved.

Flames and smoke were coming out of the second floor windows as well as the entire roof across the width of the school.

Firefighters immediately began to extinguish the blaze. Two aerial trucks remain on scene dousing the building with water.

According to Acting Assistant Chief Stan Genovese, these two trucks alone are still putting 3,000 gallons of water on the building per minute.  Earlier usage was about 7,500 gallons per minute, as firefighters worked to save what could be salvaged of the historical landmark.

The Kenner High School is an historic landmark that last housed classes until 1996.  Recently, the city was awarded a grant to begin renovations to put it back to public use.

"I want to thank the Kenner Fire Department, Kenner Police Department and East Jefferson EMS who responded, along with the Office of Emergency Management," said Mayor Ben Zahn.  It's sad because we were on our way to replacing the roof and had future plans for restoring the building."

The facility was the first school in the city when it opened in 1924 for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the report. The last senior class graduated in 1955. At that point, the school operated as a junior high until it closed in 1996.

The report said the old Kenner High School was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, and in 2012 it was named one of the New Orleans area's nine most endangered historic sites by the Louisiana Landmark Society.

According to Acting Fire Chief Stan Genovese, the old school was built with huge timbers, which contributed to the rapid engulfment and heavy embers coming off the building. Power in the area was disconnected by Entergy for the safety of responders.

"Everyone did a good job," Genovese said. "Sometimes fires look simple, but our teams handled the obstacles to protect what we could. It's unfortunate that the historical building may be a loss, but there were no injuries of first responders. The skeleton remains as we continue to extinguish the fire."

The State Fire Marshal's office is at the scene to conduct an investigation into the cause of the fire.  Once that inspection and investigation is completed, the area around the building will be barricaded for both pedestrians and vehicles as a precautionary measure until the structural integrity of the building can be established.

Kenner fire officials report there was no power source to the building.

Residents are advised to stay indoors with windows closed in this neighborhood because of the smoke still coming from the fire.

Officials with the Armstrong New Orleans International Airport have also been advised as the light wind is carrying the smoke toward the control tower and runway.

"We want our residents and people traveling to work in the area to drive with caution as our first responders remain working at the site. We ask for drivers to truly consider another route this morning,"Zahn said. "Once the fire is extinguished, we will be barricading the area as the investigation continues."

Approximately 17 households remain without power this morning in the area, as power was disconnected by Entergy when the fire was initially reported.

"We will keep the community updated as more information is available," Zahn said.

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