The Arlington Fire Department is looking into what started a fire that destroyed an iconic youth theater on the evening of the Fourth of July.
Flames tore through the Creative Arts Theatre and School on Wednesday evening, destroying both the theater and the nonprofit's hopes of selling the 50-year-old building. Thick smoke and limited exits made it tough to fight the flames inside, so crews ended up dousing the fire from above with a truck.
No one was inside the building at the time of the fire.
CATS said the lives of thousands of students have been positively affected by productions they’ve put on in the theater on Randol Mill Road since moving to the facility in 1983. Now, with much of the stage melted by the fire, school leaders said the show will go on only not on the same stage.
“The damage was horrible, said 10-year-old Bethany Parrish, CATS student. “It’s my home away from home because I’ve been here 6 years.
Bethany was heartbroken by what’s left of her school after fire ravaged the theater. Just last week she played a stepsister in the theater’s production of Cinderella. She didn’t know it’d be the final curtain call on the stage.
“This is a major, major, devastating setback and tragedy,” said Heather Simmons, CATS executive director. “It was not supposed to be like this. We were on our way to a fresh start in a new location."
CATS Board President Howard Parrish, Bethany's father, said they were down to negotiating the final details with two churches vying to buy the building. The theater had been planning to move to a more efficient facility in the arts area of downtown Arlington.
It’s a devastating loss for the current 150 students and thousands of alumni.
“A lot of kids were upset," said Howard. "They spent years on this stage and not being able to say ‘Goodbye’ properly hurt a lot of them. We’ll wait for the smoke to clear and see what insurance will cover, how much it will cost to move. We’ll wait and see."
Simmons said fireworks may have hit the roof or an electrical problem behind the stage area may have started the fire. Fire officials expect the investigation to take a few days.
“We teach our children to persevere and that’s what we must do,” said Simmons.
Summer school starts on Saturday for kids ages 13-18. Leaders are looking for a temporary home, and Theatre Arlington has offered to help. CATS said their production will go on somewhere near the end of the month.
NBC 5's Frank Heinz contributed to this report.