‘It moved pretty rapidly’: School building heavily damaged after fire breaks through ceiling

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 6:20 PM EDT
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Southport, N.C. (WECT) - A school building at Southport Christian School looks to be a total loss after a fire started in the ceiling.

“A lot of damage in the fire area — those four rooms. And it did push through the entire attic it looks like — so with the water damage and the smoke damage it’s probably unfortunately going to be a total loss, but I can’t make that determination,” said Assistant Fire Chief Todd Coring of the Southport Fire Department.

A janitor at the school was in the boy’s bathroom around 7:30p on Thursday when he smelled fire. It wasn’t long before he saw flames.

“When he was In the building working he smelled fire, he heard popping, he smelled smoke and while he was calling 911 he started to see fire so it moved pretty rapidly,” said Assistant Chief Coring.

The janitor was the only one in the building at the time and was able to make it out.

The principal of Southport Christian School said that even if students had been there, she believes they would have been able to make it out safely thanks to the school’s well-built firewalls.

“The firewalls they did their job, where the fire started in the ceiling, it traveled up over our hallway and down, so that’s incredible that the hallway really didn’t have any structural damage from fire that was mostly from water,” principal Lisa Kjome said. “Students — if this had happened during the school day — they would have been able to have, you know, gotten out of the building safely.”

Coring confirmed the firewalls were able to hold the flames to the general area where the fire started.

The cause of the fire looks to be electrical. Nothing suspicious has been identified.

Seven different fire departments responded and a total of 50 firefighters were needed to extinguish the flames. Southport firefighters were on the scene fighting the flames for about four hours.

“It was incredible so as they were fighting, you know, water they were going in from the top, the sides, water down our hallway, we had a crane up here,” Kjome said.

“That’s where our neighboring departments help us so much because we can’t do it alone and it being a larger building and the complexity of where it is,” assistant chief Coring said.

Coring said there were a couple of challenges they had to overcome to fight this fire. The school building is located behind Beach Road Baptist Church, so it took some time to stretch the hose lines back to the school.

It was also a stubborn fire that did push through the entire attic, according to Coring.

School was canceled for all students today and Monday. Middle and high school students will return Tuesday. Elementary and preschool students will be on a week pause until Southport Christian School can secure a backup location.

Kjome said she has spoken with other churches about providing a temporary location. The school has also reached out to Fort Caswell through the Baptist Assembly and talked with Cape Fear Fitness.

Since the fire, Kjome has been encouraged by the response from the community — seemingly everyone wants to help.

“I left last night, it was about 11:45, with the fire marshal and by this morning people were already reaching out with ideas for fundraisers, starting a GoFundMe with the school, looking at building and rebuilding options,” she said.

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