- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

An early morning fire yesterday that destroyed a section of a historic schoolhouse in Waterford, Va., appeared to have started near a propane furnace, fire officials said.

A passer-by spotted smoke coming from the schoolhouse at the corner of High and Fairfax streets at about 6:30 a.m., authorities said. Firefighters arrived shortly after to find the rear portion of the building, which was used as an auditorium, engulfed in flames.

It took firefighters about an hour to get the three-alarm blaze under control. Firefighters were able to save the front portion of the building, but it suffered heavy smoke and water damage. The front portion formerly was used as classrooms but now serves as community rooms and office space.

“Due to the extent of the fire, [firefighters] had to approach it from a defensive perspective,” said Mary Maguire, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County fire department. “Because of that, they were able to save the school portion of the building.”

Authorities think the fire was accidental. It appeared to have started near a propane furnace in the basement, although it was not clear yesterday what sparked the blaze.

The schoolhouse was built in 1910 — after the original building burned down in 1909. The building hasn’t been used for classes for about 40 years, but it has served as a “community center” for a town that has worked hard to preserve its history, said John Kornacki, executive director of the Waterford Foundation.

The auditorium that was destroyed yesterday was added to the building in 1928. It was used by the town for concerts, weddings and community events.

“The best way to put it was that the old school … was really the center of cultural life here in Waterford,” Mr. Kornacki said. “It’s a real hard loss for us.”

No one was seriously hurt in the fire, but a firefighter was taken to Inova Loudoun Hospital for treatment of a minor injury.

Mr. Kornacki pledged that the town would rebuild the structure.

“We’re going to stay as close to the original idea as we can,” he said.

The Waterford Foundation has established a Rebuild the Old School fund. Donations can be sent to the Waterford Foundation at PO Box 142, Waterford, VA 20197 or online at www.waterfordva.org.

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