POPLAR BLUFF -- The Mark Twain Kindergarten Center was empty when bells rang Thursday after an early morning fire destroyed four modular buildings that served as classrooms and special purpose rooms for more than 120 of the campus' approximately 400 students.
Members of the Poplar Bluff police and fire departments, a state fire investigator and arson dog and officials with the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives will investigate.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said Poplar Bluff police chief Danny Whiteley.
Kindergarten classes were canceled until Monday while school officials seek a new home for students of the seven regular classrooms, resource room, vision program room and speech office that were destroyed.
A resident reported the fire on the southwest side of the North Main Street campus around 2:15 a.m., according to authorities.
When firefighters arrived the two trailers in front near the playground were fully involved, said Poplar Bluff fire chief Ralph Stucker. "All three stations responded, and we called back one shift. We probably had 15 to 16 people on scene."
Though the charred shells of the modular buildings sit only a few feet from Mark Twain's two permanent structures, the brick buildings appear to have suffered only minor smoke damage.
"The fire department did a tremendous job preventing the fire from spreading to the permanent structure. The cafeteria and gymnasium sit very close," said deputy police chief Jeff Rolland.
"We've done a preliminary sweep of the scene," Rolland said. "We're going to need heavy equipment to assist in digging through the scene. As other assets with the ATF get here, we'll do a more methodical examination."
The district plans to reopen the Mark Twain campus Monday, associate superintendent Clint Johnston said.
"We're meeting with staff this morning to get direction within the crisis management plan," Johnston said. "We're still trying to determine how best to serve the educational needs of our students. Those needs don't go away because these things come up."
Mark Twain principal Carl Rosenquist has been at the campus since the center opened nine years ago. He was called to the school at 2:30 a.m., while the modular classrooms still burned.
"This is tragic, but it was only a loss of materials. We'll weather this storm," Rosenquist said. "Whatever we do, our focus is on the kids."
Board president Hardy Billington, a delegate at the Republican National Convention held in Minneapolis this week, said by phone the district will find a place for the displaced students.
"I'm just glad nobody was hurt and this happened when no kids were there," Billington said.