Fast-moving grass fire scorches North Valley school

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Cell phone video shows a man using a water hose to help put out a grass fire burning in the back of a Merced home.

The blaze taking down two outbuildings, a car and spreading to Mcswain Elementary School right next door.

"It's so close to the classrooms," said Principal Lori Havel.

She was home when the fire started and saw the thick black smoke.

"And thought oh that looks like it's near the school and then thought oh no it's never the school," said Havel.

The radiant heat from the fire was so intense that it melted the blinds in this third-grade classroom, even causing minimal smoke and heat damage to three others.

"It was just the most nerve-wracking situation sitting and watching this huge billow of smoke encroaching upon your campus and there is nothing you can do about it," said Superintendent Steve Rosa.

Batallion Chief Jeremy Rahn says the 20 miles per hour winds coupled with dry air and low humidity created challenging conditions.

However, he says the stucco exterior helped the building withstand significant damage.

"The wind was pushing the fire literally onto the side of the building due to the type of construction it was able to minimize the impact of the building itself," said Rahn.

It was also an onsite fire hydrant taking water from a tower that helped firefighters from multiple agencies attack the blaze.

Havel says she is just grateful it happened when students were not there.

"That is the best thing out of all of this is that there were no kids on campus. There was minimal staff and everyone was ok," said Havel.
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