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Firefighters call Golden Valley High School fire "suspicious"

A fire damaged two portable classrooms at Golden Valley High School on Monday, prompting school officials to briefly evacuate the campus as Merced Fire Department firefighters responded to the scene.

Fortunately, firefighters said no one was hurt in the small fire — although investigators are calling the blaze suspicious.

Division Chief Bryan Donnelly said firefighters arrived at the school after receiving a call at 12:31 p.m. and contained the fire off the Childs Avenue side of the school within ten minutes. Donnelly said the fire originated from an empty space between the exterior of the two structures.

He said the fire burned the rear of the structures along with sections of the roof, walls and floor. Merced Fire Chief Ken Mitten said the damage to the buildings is estimated at about $15,000. “They are not a total loss by any means, but they are going to have to do some work,” Donnelly said.

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Principal Craig Chavez said about 32 students were inside each of the classrooms when the fire was first reported by a school security officer. Chavez said he pulled the fire alarm and the students were escorted from the buildings.

Chavez said the entire campus was then evacuated, as the students were then taken to emergency staging areas away from the campus’ buildings. After firefighters reported that the area was safe, Chavez said students were allowed back on campus. “The first concern is students and they all made it out safely,” Chavez said.

Donnelly said firefighters are calling the fire suspicious because there are no obvious mechanical or electrical causes. “There’s nothing obvious we can find that would have started it accidentally,” Donnelly said.

Stephanie Kilby, an English teacher with a class next to the two buildings, said her class had about 10 minutes left when she heard the fire alarm. Kilby said she escorted her students from the building and saw flames emanating from the structures. “Tiny flames, but flames,” Kilby said.

In the meantime, Chavez said the school will find other modular buildings to use on campus. “Obviously, the (burned buildings) will be inspected before anyone goes back in,” Chavez said.

Donnelly said 16 firefighters, two fire engines and one truck responded to the scene.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached (209) 385-2431 or