Flint, MI—The former Washington Community School caught fire in the early morning Oct. 7.

At noon, Flint fire officials said they were still working to put out the fire, but had contained it inside areas of the building built with brick.   

Battalion Fire Chief Steve Cobb said the department received a call at 12:20 Thursday morning and crews arrived on scene shortly after. Currently, there are no known or casualties or injuries.  

“For the most part, the roof is gone. The floors have collapsed. But there are some hot spots still in the corners of the building that we can’t reach from outside,” Cobb said.

The Flint Fire Department battles a blaze at the former Washington Community School on the east side of Flint, Mich. in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2021. (Courtesy of Travis Ricketts)

Officials do not yet know what caused the fire, but the Flint Police Department are working with the Michigan State Police to investigate, Cobb said.

Flint Police Chief Terence Green did not respond to request for comment by press time.

“We are grateful for the fast response and support of the Flint Fire Department. We will be working with the city to determine next steps at the site once the fire is fully extinguished. We would also ask anyone with information regarding this incident to please contact the fire department or Flint Police,” Interim Superintendent Kevelin Jones said.

Flint Community Schools closed the building in 2014 to address the district’s then $11 million budget deficit. It has been sitting abandoned since.

Cobb said the building’s dilapidated state makes it unsafe for firefighters to enter.

“The building’s not safe. It’s structurally unsound, so we can’t send firefighters in there and we have a lot of hot spots burning. So, at this time right now we are trying to arrange an excavator to come over there and knock down some walls for us to make it more safe,” Cobb said.

Ten hours after Flint firefighters arrived on the scene, the former Washington Community School on the east side of Flint, Mich. continues to burn on Oct. 7, 2021 (Carmen Nesbitt | Flint Beat)

After the walls are knocked down, it may be difficult to determine the fire’s origins, Cobb said.

“We’re really going to destroy a lot of evidence by knocking things down and everything. For the most part, it’s going to be a write-off, I think,” he said.

Washington Community School was built in 1921, marking this year as its hundredth anniversary.

Residents who live nearby said they were sad to see it burn.

“I just wish it wouldn’t have happened, to be really honest. I didn’t go to school here, but it was something that was nice to see in a neighborhood,” said Wallace Taylor, who has lived in the area for six years.

This is not the first time Washington Community has caught fire since it was abandoned. In 2018, Flint fire authorities ruled a case of arson after someone lit bags of garbage on fire and threw them on the roof of the school.

“We’ve been here many, many, many times,” Cobb said. “People have been coming into here and setting little fires for years.”

Ten hours after Flint firefighters arrived on the scene, the former Washington Community School on the east side of Flint, Mich. continues to burn on Oct. 7, 2021 (Carmen Nesbitt | Flint Beat)

Flint resident Shawn Guenther said he’s tired of seeing abandoned schools.

“I grew up right over here, and this is what I see? Another school up in flames? They need to do something about it,” Guenther said.

Over half of Flint schools have closed over the past decade due to declining student enrollment. Fewer students mean less state funding and the district has been unable to keep up with its finances. As it stands, the district faces an $18 million deficit.

In August, the Flint Community Schools Board of Education voted to sell some of its 22 vacant properties as part of a deficit elimination plan. Nine properties were listed on the district’s website by September. Washington Community is not among them.

Cobb said the fire department has been in close communication with the district.

“They realize that they’ve got a big cleanup project ahead of them. At this point, we’re just trying to extinguish it today, and then it will be up to the school board to get the site cleaned up,” Cobb said.

Carmen Nesbitt

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...

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3 Comments

  1. I live near this school and I hate seeing it like this now. The entire campus is now forbidden to enter. You can’t even use the still good playground! You will get arrested! Why aren’t the dumb arsonists ever turned in?? Why are people so scared of them?? I’m not!! They need to be in jail for this and NOW! It is in a populated hood and other homes could have been burned down too! Take back our hood and turn in these KILLERS! I seen some people messing around in it the day before the fire and I bet they did it. I never seen them before either. Washington School was a good place to just hang out and play when it was closed. The playground was used and now no one can go on the property at all. This is a sick shame that this keeps happening because people are scared to turn in these arsonists! It continues to stay bad here because of just this! It needs to change and NOW! It should have been demolished long before the fire. Too many IDIOTS jacked it up more and more and tried to burn it down 2 other times. STAY OUT OF VACANT BUILDINGS!!! NOT SAFE OR SMART TO BE IN THEM! People that do this need to be arrested and be made to pay for the damages they did! Why make it worse and worse?? People are so DUMB here!

  2. I, like Shawn Guenther, am tired of seeing so many vacant schools too. This sucks! There are so very little left open here and I feel that the rest need to close up for good too and just let students do online learning from now on like others are doing. I am also sick of vacant schools getting more and more jacked up by stupid vandals and then get burned own by even DUMBER arsonists! People do not turn them in and it will keep on happening until they do get turned in! NO NEED FOR THIS CRAP to keep going on! Flint used to be FULL of schools and now it almost a school-less city! Flint really does need to turn around for the BEST somehow and NOW! It’s going down the toilet more and more each year here! All the many long vacant schools need to come down NOW because I and others are SICK of them being closed and destroyed by rotten people! DO SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT IT!!

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