February 23, 2024
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By Jenna Wise

According to Brian Enterline, the Fire Chief, someone deliberately lit on fire, Monday morning, the old William Penn High School, in Harrisburg. This sparked a long-drawn out firefight on a roof that was partially collapsed.

The arson was started at the North Fourth Street 2900 block. Firefighters spent over 2.5 hours fighting the fire. Even though it was late in the morning, firefighters were still working to extinguish hotspots. The fire forced the Camp Curtin Academy to cancel classes.

Fire started on the north-side of the building on 27 acres, in the old shop with 3 garage bays. Enterline reported that the smoke and fire caused extensive damage to the area near Graham Street. This included a partial collapse of roof.

The School District Superintendent Eric Turman stated that it was still too early to make a full damage assessment. However, they had plans for the building’s rehabilitation.

Since 2011, the school closed its doors as a technical-vocational school, and it was used for alternative education.

It has since fallen into disrepair and been subjected to fires, vandalism, and other acts of destruction. In 2021, a walk through the school revealed graffiti-scarred wall coverings, overgrown courtyards as well as floors covered in shattered glasses and dusty textbooks.

Since more than 10 years, the school is filled with “thousands” of tons of old furniture and debris. This was even though Enterline had asked the school district to remove the material because it was a fire risk.

Turman was unable to explain why the building had not been cleaned, but he did note that the district has worked hard to secure it.

It is hard to secure the large building, which has no utilities or electricity. Enterline reported that people with bad intentions seem to be able to get inside.

He said that “nefarious” residents wanted to continue entering the building, and the “joyfires” which they were starting put lives in danger, as well as firefighters, who had to respond repeatedly to the empty school.

He said, “I do not want to drag anyone out of a bag with a dead body.”

The fire is not clear who caused it. Enterline says that arson is one of the most difficult crimes to prove.

William Penn High school has been the subject of debate for many years.

The Harrisburg School district announced in September that a taskforce would be formed to determine what should happen to the building. Administrators approved the demolition of the building despite protests from community members.

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