HORNBY ISLAND, B.C- A fire on Hornby Island has dealt a major blow to the community’s school.

According to the island’s fire chief Doug Chinnery, a call came in the department about the fire around 2:48 a.m. An alarm had activated at the school, and the duty officer found the front of the building engulfed in flame when he arrived minutes later.

The school’s windows had failed before the first truck arrived 12 minutes later, with flames spreading inside the school.

Though firefighters sprayed down the exterior and fought the flames inside the building, the fire eventually spread to the space between the ceiling and the building’s roof, which required a crew on the roof to spray down.

The total time spent fighting the fire was around nine hours, with a local man eventually being enlisted to pull down the roof with an excavator.

Fire doors managed to block the fire spreading to the other two-thirds of the building, but the school office, gym, front entrance, bathrooms, mechanical rooms, electrical rooms, and staff room were destroyed.

Chinnery said that the library had suffered extensive smoke damage, and several classrooms had taken minimal damage.

A total of 12 firefighters and five firetrucks responded to the scene from the Hornby fire department, with mutual aid from the Denman Island fire department bringing in two trucks and seven firefighters.

Chinnery said there was a “deep sadness” in the community over the damage to the school, and couldn’t see how the school year would start on the island due to the fire.

The exact cause of the fire remains unknown, though Chinnery believed the exterior of the building had begun to burn first. There were no injuries at the scene.

Fire inspectors should be arriving tomorrow.

A news release from the school district has indicated that the fire is being investigated by police.

“The Board of Education is shocked and saddened that one week prior to the start of the new school year at the news of a devastating fire that has damaged the Hornby Island Community School, a rural island school that not only serves the many students and families of Hornby Island but the entire community,” said Board Chair Janice Caton, in the release.

School district staff will be working with the community to ensure educational programs continue on Hornby Island for the coming school year.

“School District 71 would like to thank all the first responders from Hornby and Denman Islands,Comox Valley RCMP, British Columbia Emergency Health Services and BC Hydro,” stated the release.

“Thank you also to BC Ferries staff who worked through the night to shuttle emergency crews to the island and to the residents of Hornby Island who supported the first responders throughout the event.”

Staff will be working on a contingency plan, and further information on a school start date will be posted on the school district’s website, as well as the school’s own website.

“Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the students and staff both past and present and families of Hornby Island as we work together to determine our next steps,” said Caton, in the release.

A date to discuss the educational plan with the community will be “set up shortly”.