There are new developments in the investigation into a devastating fire at one West Alabama school. The blaze at Choctaw County High was reported to authorities around 7:45 Tuesday night. Upon arrival, emergency responders say flames were showing. It took authorities at least six hours to contain the blaze.
"It was tough because the way it was spreading; it just spread so much," says Butler Police Chief Jimmy Huckeba.
"I think this is the worst fire that we've had in the county since I've been in law enforcement," says Chief Deputy Kenneth Thomas with the Choctaw County Sheriff's Department.
Volunteer firefighters from at least 8 different departments responded.
"If it hadn't been for fire walls, all of it would've been destroyed," says Superintendent Sue Moore with Choctaw County Schools. She says once the flames settled, it was evident that the entire west wing of Choctaw County High had been severely damaged. This includes: anywhere from 12 to 15 classrooms, the science lab, computer lab and principal's office. Fortunately, she says no one was hurt.
"We do have some of the older buildings that we sold to communities that we may be able to use for some classes. The good thing is that we're still going to be able to use some of this high school," says Moore.
From the school's parking lot, it appears that the 7th and 8th grade portions of Choctaw County High are in tact. This includes: the cafeteria, library and band hall. The building which housed the 9th through 12th grade classes is where the major damage was done.
Because that building was so hot, it wasn't until about 9 Tuesday morning when Alabama's fire marshal was able to go inside and survey the damage. Although he's now ruling the cause of the fire as 'undetermined,' the fire marshal did tell local law enforcement that the fire was likely not the result of arson.
Built in 2005, over the years concerns from some within the community have been raised about possible structural problems at Choctaw County High and neighboring Choctaw County Elementary. However, in the wake of the fire, Superintendent Moore says it's unknown if a structural problem was the culprit in this case.
'It's too early to tell that. We don't know that. We'll wait to find out from the fire marshal.'
At this time the exact cost for the damage is unknown. In all, 385 students attend Choctaw County High School. Superintendent Moore says classes for those students will be canceled until further notice. She stresses that classes at all other public schools in Choctaw County will meet as scheduled.