Construction apparent factor in fire at BHS

After receiving word the school building was deemed safe, officials said school will resume on time Wednesday.

Brainerd Firefighters position a ladder truck at the front entrance of the Brainerd High School main entrance Tuesday, Feb. 4, as two firefighters climb onto the roof of the school. A fire broke out at approximately 1 p.m. Tuesday while construction work was being done on the roof of the building. As a precaution, all the students and staff were evacuated while firefighters extinguished the blaze and law enforcement personnel secured the building. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd High School was evacuated just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, after a report of a fire at the north campus.

Officials evacuated nearly 1,500 students at the north campus that serves 10th- through 12th-graders. The flames ignited a mass response from police and firefighters, as it was not known how big the fire was. When firefighters were dispatched at 12:56 p.m., all they knew was there was smoke coming from the top of the high school building.

Students and staff lined the sidewalk along the 700 block of Fifth Street South across from the BHS north campus and behind the Lincoln Education Center. Students also stood between the two campuses as they waited for direction from school administrators as firefighters arrived on scene.

Squads from the Brainerd Police Department and Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office blocked traffic off Quince, Pine and Oak streets off South Fifth Street to give Brainerd firefighters room to work.


Brainerd High School students walk south on South 5th Street Tuesday, Feb. 4, after being dismissed early from school when a fire broke out on the roof of the building. Staff and students were evacuated and later dismissed. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Three fire trucks — two being ladder trucks — and several police cars lined South Fifth Street, as students and staff watched. When firefighters arrived, they did not see any smoke. After talking with police officers on scene, the fire department backed its ladder truck onto the sidewalk by the doors of the north campus main entrance.

Capt. Rahn Findlay of the Brainerd Fire Department said firefighters climbed the ladder to get to the roof and met with construction workers, who guided the fire crew to where they thought the fire was. Firefighters found the fire and extinguished it.

“There is a roofing operation going on up there,” Findlay said, citing the possible reason for how the fire started.

Fifteen firefighters responded to the fire call and there were no injuries. The extent of the damage caused by the fire was not yet known Tuesday night.

The Brainerd Fire Department ladder truck is parked at the main entrance of the Brainerd High School Tuesday, Fen. 4, after a fire broke out on the roof of the school prompting an evacuation. The fire was quickly extinguished and the students were dismissed for the day. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


As the fire was contained and under control, BHS Principal Andrea Rusk approached the students on South Fifth Street and told them they were dismissed for the rest of the day for their safety. A loud cheer was then heard from the students.

The students eventually were allowed to enter the school to gather their belongings after it was cleared and determined to be safe.

Rusk also sent a mass email to parents at 1:45 p.m. informing them about the fire.

“To ensure the safety for our students and staff the entire building needs to be inspected prior to anyone being allowed back in the building,” Rusk wrote. “Students were dismissed to leave if they walk or drive to school. Students can also be picked up by parents/guardians using Quince Street. Any students who ride the bus can remain on campus in the South Campus cafeteria until the BHS north building is deemed safe to enter.”

District 181 administrators Joshua Fordyce, Laine Larson, Andrea Rusk, and Reed Thiesse discuss how they are going to safely handle the students who were on the sidewalks around the Brainerd High School Tuesday, Feb. 4, after the school was evacuated because of a roof fire. Steve Kohls / Brained Dispatch

Superintendent Laine Larson said the school building was deemed safe for staff and students and school will resume on time Wednesday.

Larson said the school’s evacuation plan worked well Tuesday during the small fire and the emergency responders helped keep everyone calm.


“We are extremely thankful that everyone is safe and that the teamwork made this process work well,” Larson said.

The Minnesota State Patrol also assisted with traffic at the scene.

As Brainerd High School students wait on the South 5th Street sidewalk Tuesday, Feb. 4, representatives of the construction companies wait until they can inspect the damage after a fire ignited on the roof of the building. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Construction at the high school

Several Brainerd Public Schools building projects began in 2019 as a result of the April 2018 bonding referendum, including a 1,200-seat performing arts center currently being constructed on the north side of the north campus. The front entrance of the high school is also under construction and the main office and attendance office were relocated to a different part of the building as construction continues.

Renovations at BHS include placing all students under one roof with a reconfiguration of the north campus building and the addition of an eight-lane competition swimming pool. The south campus building will be remodeled to accommodate transitional programs and programs currently housed at Lincoln Education Center, which will be demolished in the future.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

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