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Etowah County School Fire Accidental

Hot Welding Accident Caused Fire

Contact: John S. Robison, State Fire Marshal

334-241-4166

5/16/2003

Investigators with the Alabama State Fire Marshals Office determined today that the fire last night at Highland School in Etowah County was accidental.

Based upon information from witnesses and the examination of the scene, investigators determined the fire originated where hot welding was conducted yesterday afternoon at the school.  Workmen had been cutting away old metal frame windows to install new windows, but failed to realize there was wood behind part of the metal.

Workmen stopped cutting around 3:45 PM Thursday and left the area around 4:30 PM.  The fire was discovered after 8:00 PM and the discoverer was able to enter the room where the fire began.  The fire at that time was confined to the space above the ceiling in the immediate area where the cutting had taken placed earlier.  The fire was reported at 8:27 PM.

The school, owned by the Etowah County Board of Education, is located at 3156 Tabor Road near Gadsden.  The fire damaged or destroyed 16 classrooms, a computer room, a library, a cafeteria, an office, four restrooms and a teacher workroom.  Mike Bailey, Assistant Superintendent of Education for the school system, said the building destroyed by the fire was built in 1951.

Twelve area fire departments responded to the scene including the Highland, Look Out Mountain, Black Creek, Reese City, Hokes Bluff, Keener, Coats Bend, Ivalee, Tidmore, and Glencoe Volunteer Fire Departments and the Gadsden and Attalla Fire Departments.  The Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, Etowah County Rescue Squad, Rural Metro Ambulance, and American Red Cross also responded.