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Photos: RCMP renews calls for help after Hazel Trembath Elementary fire

Determining the cause of blaze will take "several months" to investigate, police say, as flares and hotspots proved difficult to collect evidence at the Port Coquitlam school.

With the smell of smoke still in the air, police and school district officials stood in front of Hazel Trembath Elementary today, Oct. 26, to renew calls for help after a fire ripped through the building two weeks ago.

RCMP say they have collected more than 200 hours of surveillance video, as well as hundreds of witness statements, and followed up on numerous tips about the blaze, which is deemed to be suspicious.

Spokesperson Cpl. Alexa Hodgins told reporters the fire started at 3:17 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, and crews were at the Confederation Drive school for several days to battle the flames and subsequent hotspots and flare ups, which were challenges as police and fire officials initially collected evidence.

"Perhaps what isn't as obvious is the devastation to staff of the school, the students, the families and the broader community," said Insp. Darren Carr, Coquitlam RCMP’s operations support officer and Officer in Charge of the General Investigation Team.

"The school was not just a place of learning: It's part of the community and we're here to work with the community to find answers. We're asking for the public to come forward, if they have any additional information and could be critical to the investigation. We're always saying in policing, 'There's no such thing as bad information.' Even if you may feel it's insignificant, please come forward.”

Police are asking for anyone in the school area around 1:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. — "out for a run, walking their dog or going about their day" — or with a vehicle with a dash cam to contact the detachment.

"Investigations such as these tend to be solved when the community comes together," Carr added.

Hazel Trembath students

Meanwhile, Patricia Gartland, the superintendent and CEO of School District 43 (SD43), which has 33,000 students, said district staff are grateful to the RCMP and PoCo firefighters for their response and efforts.

"This has been a tragic loss for our school district," she said.

"This Hazel Trembath Elementary School was the heart of the community. People walk their children to school. Some of the parents attended Hazel Trembath themselves and, as a school district, we wanted to ensure that we wrapped ourselves around these little children in kindergarten to Grade 5 and put them in a safe place as soon as we possibly could."

Gartland told the Tri-City News that the SD43 Foundation has raised more than $70,000 to date to help the school community gather supplies and resources at the "new Hazel Trembath Elementary," Winslow Centre, where the kids will be bused daily for at least three years while the school is being rebuilt on site.

Gartland praised SD43 maintenance crews for turning Winslow into a welcoming place for the students, teachers and staff after the disaster and she commented on the support from other elementary schools, which created goodie bags and cards to help ease Hazel Trembath students into their new environment.

Students and staff at nearby Como Lake Middle have also gone out of their way to help the transition.

And breakfasts and lunches were also supplied to the 215 students in their first week at Winslow while teachers and staff have been receiving lunches on Wednesdays in a show of support, Gartland said.

She described the burned-down school as a "total loss" and educators were unable to pick through the rubble to salvage any items.

Among the mementos gone include student letters gathered by a Grade 2 teacher who was planning to mail them to her former students once they had graduated, Gartland said.

"But we will start new memories, dreams and hopes in this facility," she said, looking behind her at the fire scene, adding, "Out of this tragic setting, there's been a lot of joy. Everybody is wanting to contribute."

"It's really been a very good news story out of a very bad news story."

It's expected that the plans to rebuild Hazel Trembath Elementary will be approved in about nine months.

How can I help?

1. SD43 Education (tax receipts issued)

2. GoFundMe: (via teacher Leah Michele, with proceeds to Hazel Trembath Elementary PAC)

3. City of Port Coquitlam has launched a school supplies drive until Oct. 31.

Residents can drop off the following items at the Port Coquitlam Community Centre (2150 Wilson Ave.), at the Hyde Creek Recreation Complex (1379 Laurier Ave.) or at city hall (2580 Shaughnessy St.): 

  • Staplers
  • Clipboards
  • Dry erase markers
  • Poster board
  • Sticky Post-It notes
  • Writing instruments (pencils, highlighters, pens or markers and erasers)
  • Art supplies (construction paper, crayons and glue)
  • Games
  • Notebooks
  • Calculators
  • Lined paper
  • New or gently used books (suitable for primary aged pupils, K-Grade 5)

What is not accepted:

  • Food or canned goods
  • Gift cards
  • Monetary donations
  • Clothing

Anyone with information about the fire at Hazel Trembath Elementary on Oct. 14, 2023, is asked to contact the Coquitlam RCMP at 604-945-1550 and quote file number 2023-27725.