Huge fire ravages former Tacoma middle school

TACOMA, Wash. — A massive fire at an abandoned school building sent flames and smoke soaring into the air in Tacoma Wednesday morning as crews continue to battle the flames.

It’s the third fire in as many days at an abandoned building.

The corner of Howe Street and Division Lane was blocked off along with several other roads and intersections around Gault Middle School because of the massive response to the fire.

When KIRO 7 arrived our cameras saw several sections of the building burning including the main entry. Flames shooting out of the roof, beams inside collapsing, and a fire chief told us that they expect fire crews to be there for most of the day.

Charisse Tregoning lives near the school and was out early Wednesday filming the flames with her cell phone.

“It’s very sad, I mean my whole family went to that school. It’s been a staple of this neighborhood before they closed it,” she said.

Tregoning admits she had to see the massive fire herself, a school her family has known for generations, as it went up in flames.

“It’s just been an eyesore and it’s just really really sad,” Tregoning said.

“They sure did a fine job, they hit every corner — this whole thing’s burning man!” said Joe Schaeffer, who lives within a few blocks of the school and was out with his son watching it burn.

Schaeffer said since it closed in 2009, there have been many fires at the school, a fact confirmed by fire personnel to KIRO 7.

He believes people who were inside the vacant school sparked the fire, which started around 4:15 a.m., according to the incident commander.

“They finally did it,” Schaeffer said, referencing whoever he believes may have set the fire.

“We do know that this building has had a history of being very porous and people making unauthorized entry into the building. We don’t know that at this time, but there’s a high probability,” said Battalion Chief Todd Magliocca of the Tacoma Fire Department.

Magliocca was the incident commander at the middle school fire scene. He said that the last big fire may have happened in 2020, but he said all the previous fires were nothing like what happened Wednesday morning, with flames burning through nearly every section of the school.

He also said firefighters have used the building for training in the past, but on Wednesday, it was too dangerous to go in; it was so bad crews could only watch it burn at one point.

“We actually let that burn through and once the roof perforated we were able to apply water,” said Magliocca.

This is the third fire at a vacant building that I’ve covered in as many days.

Tacoma schools said on its website that this building was slated for demolition. The fire may speed up that process.

There were several hoses working on the fire for most of the early morning pounding the roof with water, expecting some of it to collapse so they can put water on the fire that is burning inside this building.

The battalion chief admitted they are going to let it burn at times so openings would allow them greater access to pour more water on the flames.

Magliocca also said there is a danger of the building collapsing so they have so they have closed off several streets in the area. They are advising people to avoid it in general.