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School opens today after fire cleanup

Students will return to classes today at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Alden, two days after a brush fire whipped into an inferno by high winds damaged a wing of the school and destroyed a nearby old convent building.

The Rev. James D. Ciupek, pastor at St. John's, said damage to the school was minimal and limited mostly to a wing that houses the gymnasium and lunch room.

Professional cleaners started cleaning the wing Monday night and were almost finished by Tuesday afternoon, he said.

"It was mostly smoke damage" caused when some windows were blown out by the fire, he said.

Nearby St. John's Convent House was destroyed by the fire, he said, and what's left eventually will be torn down and removed.

The incident started just before 1:45 p.m. Monday, when a garage at 12414 Westwood Road near Sandridge Road was reported to be on fire, Erie County sheriff's officials said.

Witnesses told authorities that the fire started after high winds blew flames from a brush pile being burned near the garage.

Alden firefighters arrived to find the garage engulfed. Heat from the garage resulted in damage to the outside of a home there.

A short time later, the brisk winds fanned the flames and sent glowing embers flying in the direction of Sandridge Road, causing damage to a wing of the school. The convent was ignited next.

The upper attic and roof of the convent were destroyed, and there was heavy water and smoke damage throughout the building.

Ciupek said no one lived in the convent but the building often was used by the parish as a meeting place. It contained a youth room, as well as a place for religious retreats. It had a large meeting area, a full-service kitchen and dining room and the original convent chapel on the bottom floor, he said.

Total damage estimates have not been determined yet, Ciupek said.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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