Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the fire happened at the Los Alamitos Civic Center. The fire occurred at the Los Alamitos COMMUNITY Center.
An electrical fire wrecked the preschool classroom at Los Alamitos Community Center Tuesday night, disrupting plans for the first day of school Thursday and causing at least $35,000 in damage, an Orange County Fire Authority spokesman said.
The fire at 10911 Oak Street started at about five minutes to 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to Orange County Fire Authority Captain Marc Stone. The OCFA dispatched four engines, and fire crews had the flames extinguished within 10 to 15 minutes.
The blaze did an estimated $25,000 in damage to the modular building and $10,000 in damage to the contents.
According to Stone, fire crews reported an “electrical event” in a nearby electrical vault -- an underground room that provides utility companies access to electrical equipment -- which may have led to electrical arcing in wiring under the classroom. Arcing wires get hot, which can lead to fires.
“They’re still trying to determine why it happened and what caused it,” Stone said about the ongoing investigation.
Afterward, firefighters used chainsaws to cut through the walls and the floor of the classroom to do a thorough check for any lingering flames.
“If we see an electrical panel and we put it out, we have to open up the walls and make sure there’s no fire inside,” Stone said.
According to City Manager Angie Avery, most of the city staff had already gone home (City Hall is open until 5:30 p.m. most weekdays), and no one was inside the classroom.
Avery said there was a power outage about five minutes before the fire.
The fire was "like a stove, where the flames come out from underneath" the grill, said Avery, and the flames reached about two to three feet high.
Thursday's preschool class will be moved to the community center room at City Hall, added Avery. The burned modular classroom looks "uninhabitable ... probably forever" and will probably have to be replaced, she said.
"They won't have their private classroom space anymore, but we can accommodate them over there."
The first day of class for the city's Ready, Set, Go! preschool program begins Thursday, and Avery said she and other staffers are "just sad because all the kids had to be relocated" to a new place.
“It’s (the preschool) a little hidden gem and a treasure in Los Alamitos, mainly due to the teacher.” Avery said. “She’s got a loyal following.”
That teacher, Cypress resident Barbara Brown, said she had already spent more than 15 to 20 hours decorating the room in preparation for the kids’ return.
Brown said she was “pretty upset” when she found out about it but is happy that no one was hurt.
Brown said she plans to tell the students why they are in the community center and not their regular classroom.
“I need to let the children know why they’re there,” Brown said. “You need to keep it simple, and you don’t want to scare them.”
Despite missing her old room, which she called her “little home,” Brown said she is still looking forward to the first day of school. “I think it’s going to be fun for the kids because it’s all about the children,” Brown said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the children. We want to make sure they have a home.”