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Auto shop fire: $2.5 million in damage, cause not known

Courtesy: Rick Hamilton

VISALIA, Calif (KMPH)-- Firefighters are now going through items they recovered in hopes of figuring out what started a fire at a Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia.

The fire broke out Monday afternoon.

Principal Rick Hamilton received a text from a former teacher, saying she could hear a fire alarm.

"My first reaction was 'We had another false alarm. We've had a couple in the past couple of weeks,'" he said.

Within minutes, he got calls and texts about the flames.

"As soon as I started leaving my neighborhood, I could see a huge plume of smoke. I knew it was bad," Hamilton said.

Hamilton called the Ag teacher to make sure there were no students at the site.

Then, he warned firefighters about a gas tank used by welding students in another classroom, but in the same building.

Firefighting crews from as far away as Farmersville pitched in.

They had the fire under control within two hours, but were onsite until 7:00 a.m. Tuesday.

They released a damage estimate of $2.5 million.

Investigators don't know how the fire started.

Some items may be too damaged to analyze.

Hamilton many as 130 of the school's 1600 students took Auto Shop classes.

The building will likely be off limits for the rest of the school year.

They are now in extra classrooms that were being used for storage.

"As an alumni, it hurts a little bit. This building has a lot of nostalgia," Hamilton says.

Other schools have offered to let Mt. Whitney borrow spare equipment so students don't miss out on hands-on lessons.

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