Firefighters Called Back to Scene of South Dakota Dorm Fire

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- A fire that destroyed a school dormitory on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation roared to life again Wednesday afternoon but firefighters were quickly able to bring the blaze under control.

''It was going real well on the top of the roof,'' Scott Raue, the CEO at Crow Creek Tribal School in Stephan, said in a telephone interview.

Raue said the wind started blowing between 30 mph and 40 mph around 3 p.m. and ignited embers from Sunday's fire. A wing of the same building that was destroyed caught fire and the administration building was threatened as well, he said.

''Flames were shooting all over,'' said Raue. ''I didn't want to have to call in anybody ... but it got pretty bad.''

Crews from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Highmore and Miller responded. Raue expects firefighters will remain on the scene overnight.

Classes for middle and high school students have been canceled again, he said.

Investigators have not yet found a cause for Sunday's fire. Seven students were treated for smoke inhalation.

A top priority is to find money to tear down what's left of the dormitory to prevent it from catching fire again, said Raue. He said BIA officials toured the site earlier on Wednesday, and told him they thought part of the structure could still be saved.

Raue said his goal is to build a new dorm for about 200 students by Aug. 24, just prior to the scheduled start of the new school year. Raue said a modular dormitory divided equally between male and female students and including a cafeteria would cost $2.2 million.

''I guess the question is: Will we be able to build something fast enough to house 200 kids by fall?'' Raue said during a meeting Tuesday with tribal Chairman Duane Big Eagle, several council members, officials with state and federal agencies and representatives of South Dakota's three congressional offices.

''I think we can do it within three months,'' Raue said.

Besides the dormitory, the structure housed lunchroom and kitchen facilities, computer services and financial records, and a nurse's station and first-aid room. Except for tables from a basement room, the contents of the building _ books, clothing, photo albums _ even prom dresses and graduation caps and gowns _ were lost, Raue said.

Crow Creek senior Sandy His Law, 18, had lived in the dorm since she was a freshman. Before the fire, she was preparing to attend her last prom, set for this Saturday. The fire destroyed most of her possessions, including the gown she planned to wear.

''Clothes and my stuff, my cap and gown, my prom dress, and I had my pictures, my stereo, CD's, all my stuff was in there and it's totally destroyed,'' His Law said. She had checked out for the weekend and was not in the dorm when it caught fire.

Crystal Kirkie, a tribal council member, said the prom will go on as planned Saturday at Cedar Shores near Oacoma. Graduation is scheduled for May 14. Students who don't live in Fort Thompson were sent home, Raue said. The seniors will be picked up and brought back to Crow Creek for the prom, graduation and other end-of-the-year activities, he said.

At St. Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain, students and faculty are working on plans to raise money and gather clothing.

Amy Blum of St. Joseph's said there has been an outpouring of support for the Crow Creek students.

''We've got car washes scheduled, we've got all of our employees and students looking for prom dresses to help the kids, especially after such a tragic event,'' Blum said.

Insurance will cover the school's possessions inside the building, but it won't pay for the structure or student property. The tribe is turning to federal and state government for help.

South Dakota's congressional delegation pledged to push the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies to place Crow Creek's plight higher up the priority list for funding.

''This is clearly a matter of where things need to move. We're going to push hard,'' said Ellie Wicks of Sen. Tim Johnson's state office. Benjamin Ready of Sen. John Thune's state office agreed, saying, ''I think all three congressional offices will be pushing to move up the priority list.''

Roger Campbell, South Dakota's commissioner of Tribal Government Relations, said the message from Gov. Mike Rounds is ''put a package together and see where we fit in.''

The fire highlights a problem the reservation has been dealing with for decades. Big Eagle said he has been trying since 1978 to secure federal funds to improve the reservation's crumbling school buildings.

''We have janitors that walk down the hall with brooms and sweep up the mortar that's fallen out of the cracks in the walls,'' Big Eagle said.

The gymnasium on campus was condemned almost three years ago and has been locked for more than a year.

''Maybe this is what it takes to wake up the BIA,'' Big Eagle said.

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