RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Surveillance video from cameras at William Fox Elementary School in Richmond released Wednesday provides new views of what happened the night of the fire that devastated the 110-year-old building.
One camera from inside the front foyer, which faces Hanover Avenue, showed an alarm being activated at approximately 9:21 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 11, as the foyer went from still and dimly lit, to flashing with a strobe light. Minutes later, firefighters could be seen outside the front door.
According to a release from the City of Richmond’s Department of Fire & Emergency Services, firefighters were first dispatched to the school at approximately 9:29 p.m., after the Department of Emergency Communications received a call from a passerby, who stated an alarm sound could be heard and strobe lights could be seen flashing inside the building.
The Department of Emergency Communications reportedly never received a fire alarm notification from the Richmond Alarm Company, due to an outdated panel at Fox, which did not reflect the 10-digit dialing requirement for local calls to include the 804 area code.
From another camera on the Stafford Street side of the school, fire personnel could be seen walking into the building at about 9:34 p.m.
From a different angle, at approximately 9:54 p.m., first responders could be seen through the foyer facing Hanover Ave. opening the front door of Fox Elementary, after gaining access through the basement door.
Surveillance video from the Stafford St. side showed the fire department leaving the building at about 10:08 p.m.
“There was a fire alarm here, or an alarm here. We’re not certain if it was a fire alarm, a motion detector. We’re still investigating,” Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter said during a press conference held the morning after the fire. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of that. But fire crews did respond, and did gain access to the building and search the building. But we’re trying to determine if it was a burglar alarm, or some other type of alarm, other than a fire alarm.”
The Richmond Fire Investigations Unit continues to work to determine the cause and origin of the fire. However, at this time, officials said that they have found no reason to suspect arson was the cause of the incident.
“Thermal imaging cameras were used during the search, and crews spotted nothing out of the ordinary,” a spokesperson for the fire department said. “They searched the exterior and interior of the building for at least 38 minutes without locating any indication of fire.”
After securing the building and leaving, crews were called back to Fox Elementary less than a half hour later. Once on scene, they encountered heavy smoke and flames coming from the top floor above the main entrance, spreading quickly across the top of the school.
Richmond Public Schools (RPS) released surveillance video from several of the cameras at Fox. However, the video did not include that from cameras on upper floors. 8News inquired about whether this was because the cameras were destroyed in the fire on the upper levels, or because cameras did not exist there. The team is awaiting a response.
At approximately 10:40 p.m., a surveillance camera from inside the foyer captured video of firefighters mobilizing with two hoses through the front door of the school. They could be seen pressurizing each hose with water and running them up the stairs.
But at about 10:49 p.m., video showed smoke from the second floor beginning to push down into the first floor foyer. Roughly 10 minutes later, parts of the roof began to collapse, and all crews were evacuated from inside Fox Elementary.
At approximately 11:31 p.m., video captured embers falling into the foyer from the second floor. Minutes later, there was a large ceiling collapse and more embers filled the space.
By about 11:43 p.m., the power in the school failed, and video signals were lost.
“My hope is that through the investigation of how this fire started, we will learn why the fire was not initially detectable,” Carter said. “I am very proud of the more than 75 men and women of Richmond Fire Department, who responded to the three-alarm Fox Elementary School fire. Their commitment and bravery kept the fire from spreading to nearby homes and businesses without experiencing loss of life or serious injury. We are committed to partnering with Richmond Public Schools and the community to restore normalcy and promote healing.”