San Vicente Elementary School was evacuated twice yesterday due to nearby brush fires that produced choking smoke that blanketed the area and threatened the health of students.
According to SVES principal Paulette Sablan, she had to release both her morning and afternoon batches of students earlier than usual because of a nearby brush fire that broke out in the morning and another that erupted in the afternoon.
Sablan, who reported both fires, said the first one was not as big as the second one but was just as harmful because the smoke and ash seemed to be contained in the SVES campus. She said the second brush fire’s smoke was more spread out because of the wind and its direction.
“We were lucky that the PM session has less kids compared to AM. We went through a similar thing with the AM session but the fire was not as big as this one. We actually no-ticed that the [second] fire started again at around 3:05pm. We started smelling smoke again so we contacted Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services at 3:07pm to inform them that we’re seeing smoke again and ashes were flying and this was similar to what had happened this morning,” she said.
A teacher, who chose not to disclose her name, said the morning students were re-leased around 10am.
Sablan said that students who had health issues like asthma were released first, shortly after DFEMS was called.
“We were waiting for word from [DFEMS] but we went ahead and started informing our PM staff the protocols they need to take and make sure the kids were not kept out-door and if they needed to contact parents of students who are asthmatic because of the smoke, they can do so and release them,” she said.
Sablan noticed that the fire had grown larger at around 3:20pm and that’s when she and SVES staff decided to evacuate students to the cafeteria. At that point, all parents were called and school buses were called in.
Sablan explained that the cafeteria was the farthest building from the expanding smoke.
“…The fire seemed to be getting bigger but, because of the wind direction, it wasn’t really affecting us. Then at about 3:20pm, we started evacuating our kids who were in that area to the cafeteria and eventually everyone was in there. Teachers were instructed to contact parents if they wanted to come and pick up their kids to do so because the smoke was getting bad,” she said.
As of 4:10pm, SVES staff were awaiting two more buses and the rest of the student’s parents.
DFEMS has yet to release official details of the fire.
Around 4:30pm, Saipan Tribune saw that the fire was still going strong at the scene. A police officer at the scene said that residents in that area offered their hoses and tools to aid DFEMS in containing the fire.
A nearby resident said she saw the first fire at around 9am but didn’t think much of it because it seemed small, like someone was just burning trash or debris. The fire went out at around noon, she said.
She noticed later, at around 2:30pm or 3pm, that another fire had taken the previ-ous one’s place but it was bigger.
According to the resident, she believes the brush fire was started by the hot weather yesterday.