Update 3:56 p.m: Firefighters from around Bucks County worked for more than two hours to place a fire at the historic Maria Hall on the campus of the all-girl Villa Joseph Marie High School in the Holland section of Northampton under control Monday morning.
The fire started in the basement of the hall, which was the school's first building, and quickly spread up and into the third-floor attic, according to Fire Marshal Frank Fenton. He added, there is "substantial" evidence that the fire started with wiring in the basement.
Although the fire burned just yards from the modern school building, classes were not disrupted and students were not in any danger, Villa Joseph Marie’s principal, Diana Koopman, said.
As the fire raged on in the thick walls of the Maria Hall, Koopman stood shaking her head in disbelief as the windows of the approximately 150-year-old multi-level building billowed thick smoke.
Minutes later, a firefighter from the Northampton Volunteer Fire Company used a hook to break a large window to gain entry to the second floor, Koopman said, “that is the most depressing sound.”
The fire was discovered shortly after 9 a.m. when two employees of R & R Glass and one of the school’s housekeepers went to Maria Hall to work on a broken glass storm window, Koopman told Patch.
“We saw flames coming of the bottom window and as we looked in, part of the ceiling collapsed,” Donald Poirier, of R & R Glass, said.
After more than an hour the heaviest portion of the flames were knocked down, allowing firefighters assisted school employees in retrieving portraits, vases and documents that were of historical importance to the school.
The ornately decorated building was not regularly used for educational purposes, but, instead, storage and special functions, said the school’s president, Mary T. Michel.
“We just lost material things in the fire,” said the school’s president, Mary T. Michel. “Thankfully, no one was hurt.”
With the total damage to the building not yet tallied, Michel said, the future of the hall remains undetermined at this time.
At the scene, Northampton firefighters were assisted with crews from Lower Southampton, Newtown, Upper Southampton, Warminster and Wrightstown. The Tri-Hampton Rescue Squad also had EMTs at the scene.
Earlier story follows:
A heavy basement fire at Maria Hall on the campus of Villa Joseph Marie High School spread up through the third floor and attic of a historic building Monday morning.
No one was inside the multi-level building at time of the blaze and no injuries were reported. The nearby education buildings were not evacuated and students remained in class, Principal Diana Koopman said.
The fire was discovered and reported to 911 by a member of the school's housekeeping staff and two glass installers who were preparing to fix a glass storm door in the building, which was rarely used and contained no classrooms, school employees told Patch.
Fire crews from across Bucks County responded to the blaze. As the morning progressed, extra crews were called to help fight the fire.
Firefighters encountered trouble fighting the blaze due to the structure's older construction style.
Check Patch for more updates as this story progresses.