DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. (CBS) – A massive three-alarm fire has ravaged a building at a Catholic school in Delaware County. Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze for hours before they were able to get the fire under control early Thursday morning.
Flames broke out around 11 p.m. Wednesday at Our Lady of Angels Regional School on the grounds of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church located on the 2100 block of Franklin Avenue in Morton.
CBS3 was on the scene as flames could be seen shooting from the roof of the school. Neighbors also reported hearing a boom before the school went up in flames.
“This is such a sad moment for the parish community. We’re grateful to the firefighters and all first responders on scene,” said a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Monsignor John Savinski says a new boiler was installed on Wednesday hours before the massive fire broke out. When the attachment was built in 2000, a firewall was constructed to protect it.
While a firewall prevented the blaze from burning through the newer part of the building, which includes a gym and cafeteria, the school itself is a loss.
“It hurts, it’s very heartbreaking to see it all just disappear,” said Rachael Vagnozzi, a kindergarten teacher.
After attending grade school here, Rachael Vagnozzi returned to the school two years ago to teach kindergarten.
“I spent a lot of money making my classroom over the past two years. Tons of books, tons of supplies, personal items I brought from my house to my classroom so my kids could enjoy them, things from when I was a kid,” said Vagnozzi.
He also says he’s thankful for that wall and that the church is intact.
“We pray that the community will come together. We’ll take one step at a time, that’s all we can really do. We thank the Lord no one got hurt. We thank everyone that helped put the fire out. The responders were fantastic,” said Savinski. “The community here, we all work together, and I think that’s the main thing. We are very proud of our church, our school and everyone that lives around here. It is a very tight community and I think that, again, we have a lot of support. I’m sure it will all work out.”
Crews said battling the fire was very difficult. The school sits in the middle of the neighborhood, so crews were dispersed in different areas just in case the flames were to spread.
“We did the best we could but there were heavy fire conditions upon arrival, and it seems like the fire was well advanced before we got here,” said Holmes Fire Chief John Hudyma.
Firefighters were able to save a statue of the Virgin Mary before the flames got to it. The graduating Class of 2013, which was the first graduating class at the school, raised money to buy and donate that statue.
“That is like a blessing. I can’t thank firemen enough that went back in there without thinking, ‘Oh yeah, let me just take a break.’ No, they just said, ‘OK, we’ll go back in for it,'” said former student Justin Wagner.
Our Lady of Angels students will be moving to Cardinal O’Hara High School while the school is being rebuilt. Roughly 400 students from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade attend the school, which was built in the 1950s.
“We welcome them with open arms. Our Lions will take very good care of our new Lion Cubs!” the school said in a statement.
In the meantime, summer camp has been canceled for Thursday. No word if there will be camp on Friday.
No injuries were reported but several homes nearby were briefly evacuated as a precaution.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the teachers rebuild after the fire.