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Fire destroys Van Zandt County day care center

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VAN ZANDT COUNTY (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - The parents of about 60 children will have to make alternative childcare plans today after a fire destroyed a day care center in Van Zandt County Sunday.

The Little Vandals Inc. Play and Learning Center on Farm-to-Market Road 314, south of Van, will be closed until further notice after the blaze.

"It's a little bit of a burden on these families, which is a sad deal …" said Chuck Allen, Van Zandt County Fire Marshal. "The good thing is its spring break, so I hope most of them had plans."

About 11 a.m., an employee of the day care center noticed the building was full of smoke and the doors were hot to the touch, Allen said. He said the woman did not open the doors and called 911.

Allen said a fire must have been burning for a while because the smoke was thick enough to sink to the bottom of the ground, and soot caked the entrance's glass doors. Water also covered the floor, which is most likely from a burst pipe or water heater, he said.

Even though the center was closed, firefighters checked to make sure no children were inside as they searched the fire. Allen said. No one was injured.

The fire sparked in a resource room at the center of the building, Allen said. He believes the fire had an electrical start, but the investigation is ongoing.

"I've talked with the owners here, and they have had some extensive issues with power surges (and) electrical issues inside the building during windstorms or rainstorms," he said. "I don't see any signs of there being foul play involved. We will let the electrical engineers (with the insurance company) come in work their magic and determine exactly caused this fire."

Van, Ben Wheeler and Edom volunteer departments responded to the scene.

Day care staff said they contacted each family individually to notify them of the closure.

Teacher Courtney Wheeler said everyone is devastated by the loss, both for the staff and children's families.

"The owners lived here and they are devastated," she said. "This is our life, too. We are here more than we are at home, and these kids are our family, too."

The day care's workers declined to comment.

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