Green River Star -

By David Martin

Fire burns at Washington Square


December 31, 2019

David Martin

Flames raise from the Washington Square building Thursday night after the roof fell in on the second story. Firefighters battled the blaze throughout the night.

A fire at the former Washington Elementary School was contained to the upper floors of the building.

According to Green River Fire Chief Mike Nomis, firefighters were called to the Washington Square building at about 5:30 p.m., Thursday evening after smoke was reported coming from the building. Nomis said 26 firefighters were involved in combatting the fire. They were able to put out a majority of the fire by about 2 a.m. Friday morning, and were able to completely put it out by 4 a.m. Nomis said one of the challenges firefighters faced was the voids and walls within the building, which made it difficult to combat.

Another challenge was the waterline the fire hydrants near Washington Square terminates at the cemetery. Firefighters were unable to use both hydrants near the building because the lower hydrant would have reduced water pressure at the upper hydrant. Firefighters called in a city water truck to transport water to firefighters on one side of the building while they used the hydrant at the other side.

The fire was contained to the second floor of the main structure. Nomis said there were concerns about oxygen gas in a dental office on the first floor, but the fire was unable to reach the gas. Nomis said damage on the first floor was limited to mainly water and smoke damage, while the basement is flooded and frozen.

Nomis said the cold weather made fighting the fire difficult for firefighters because water sprayed around the building froze, hindering their ability to move hoses quickly. By the time the fire was extinguished, much of the building and surrounding grounds were covered in ice. Nomis said the cause of the fire won't likely be known until next week due to the New Years holiday.

"All in all, we did the best we could," Nomis said. "The guys worked their tails off."

Hector Castillon, the building's owner, watched as firefighters battled the blaze Thursday night. He said he was on his way to Salt Lake City when he got a call about the fire as he approached Evanston, turning around and returning to Green River as quickly as he could. Castillon bought the building in 1998, initially using the old school for his archery business.

"It was a really nice shop," he said.

Over the course of a decade, Castillon renovated potions of the building to accommodate more businesses, including a dental office for his son Bryce. Castillon has a long history with the former school, saying was a student at Washington Elementary. Castillon said he almost had the building paid off.

A historical landmark

According to Dave Mead, exhibits coordinator for the Sweetwater County Historical Museum, the school was Green River's first primary grades school and was initially opened Nov. 30, 1925, to fifth and sixth grades.

The school served as Washington Elementary School until 1979, when the current Washington Elementary School was built. It then served as the Sweetwater County School District No. 2's central administration office until 1998, when it was sold.

"(The school) was one of the few school buildings in the state that had been adaptibly reused, so it is very sad for historic preservation efforts in the state as well," Brie Blasi, director of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum, said in a press release.


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