Fire on the campus of Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia burns auto shop building

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Visalia Unified School District has confirmed that the fire started inside the auto shop on campus Monday at around 6:45 in the evening. (KFSN)

Fire crews in the South Valley are investigating a fire that broke out at Mt. Whitney High School's auto shop building.

But as of Monday night, investigators have only been able to get in a few feet, so they can't locate the point of origin. They say it's not safe enough.

Crews are working to secure the building not only for fire investigators but for the water department who's trying to shut off a water leak.

Smoke could be seen for a mile as flames tore through the auto shop building of Mt. Whitney High School.

The three-alarm fire broke out at 6:45 pm Monday on the south side of the shop.

Because of the structure damage, firefighters were only able to get in 10-15 feet, before they switched to an exterior-only attack.

Chief Doug McBee of the Visalia Fire Department explains, "We only went in where we knew it was safe, so we made sure it took a little longer to get the fire out, but we kept everyone safe."

Principal Rick Hamilton says, "It's a loss of property, but that's replaceable."

Hamilton says his initial reaction was to check and make sure all students were safe and accounted for. He says some after-school programs meet in the area.

"To find that out was a huge relief. From there, it was just a matter of stepping back, and letting fire department do what they needed to do," said Principal Hamilton.

The auto shop building was built sometime in the 60's, and though it didn't collapse, the fire department is considering the south side a total loss.

Principal Hamilton confirms says classes will continue as scheduled on Tuesday.

As for the auto program, it's been with the school since its inception. They'll move instruction to a vacant classroom, and shop-work outside until they find a way to replace the shop.

On Tuesday, the Watson side of school will remain blocked off for the fire investigation.

Buses will drop off on Circle Drive, so people are asked to avoid the front of the school. Parents are asked to drop their students off on Tulare Avenue.
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