Modern amenities save historic Virginia City school

Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal Storey County Division Chief Eric Guevin works on a fire at the Fourth Ward School in Virginia City early Friday.

Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal Storey County Division Chief Eric Guevin works on a fire at the Fourth Ward School in Virginia City early Friday.

VIRGINIA CITY - A fire that ignited in construction debris in the basement of the Fourth Ward School in Virginia City early Friday morning could have destroyed the 131-year-old building had it not been for the sprinkler system installed during a 1986 renovation.

"Sprinkler systems are a must. A lot of people get concerned because you have to alter a historic building to put a sprinkler system in, but in this particular case it probably saved significant damage if not the building itself," said Storey County Fire Division Chief Eric Guevin.

A smoke alarm went off about 4 a.m. Friday morning and a short time later, the sprinkler heads activated, sounding a water flow alarm at the fire department, said Storey County Fire Chief, Gary Hames.

When crews arrived, there was smoke throughout the building, and flames in debris in the southwest corner of the basement contained by the sprinkler system, said Guevin.

He suspects sawdust, bagged and discarded in a trash bin, created enough heat at it decomposed to spontaneously ignite.

"This is not malicious in nature," he said.

He said there is flood damage to the basement and minor smoke residue throughout the building.

Crews from Reno and Lyon County were initially called in to assist, but because the sprinklers worked so efficiently, they were not needed.

"The sprinkler system saved that historic building," Hames said.

• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.

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