After San Juan High suspected arson, a drive to rebuild

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BLANDING, San Juan County — After a fire destroyed the media center at San Juan High School Nov. 17 and damaged three classrooms, those with ties to the school have united to overcome what they call a "devastating" tragedy.

The blaze was reported at about 4 a.m. and burned for two hours before it was extinguished. Within hours, word of what had spread throughout the community, coming as a huge shock to the town of 3,400 — 414 of whom attend the high school.

"None of us could believe this really happened," said Blanding resident Karie Palmer. "This was our school. Everyone had ties to it. My husband and I both attended this school."

Her daughter, Kacie Palmer, is a freshman at the school. Kacie said she felt awful when she heard about the fire and wanted to do something to help.

"I love the school and the people who work there, and they do so much for us, I thought it was time to pay them back and show our love," she said.

Since the media center was a total loss, a book drive came to mind, and Kacie started getting in touch with people she thought might be interested in helping.

This was our school. Everyone had ties to it.

–Karie Palmer

"Within an hour, she had 40 people willing to help put boxes at all the stores," Palmer said.

Boxes were placed at area high schools, where hundreds of books were collected. Rival school Monticello High donated about 100 books in a single day. The hundreds of books that have been collected, and that continue to pour in, won't entirely make up for the loss of the media center, though.

"It's nothing, but it's a start to rebuild," Palmer said. "Anytime there's a tragedy, everyone pulls together, but this has been exceptional. The community loves this school."

Kacie said she thinks the drive has been incredibly successful and "I've appreciated everyone who's helped, and who's donated." Palmer wouldn't have expected anything else.

"Tragedies happen," she said, "but it's great to see everyone pull together."

The students will return to school on Monday, using classrooms in an LDS seminary building and the school's drama room in lieu of the damaged rooms. Two men, Deven W. White, 19, and Christopher Stolzer, 22, have been arrested on suspicion of arson relating to the fire.

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