Fire destroys part of school and leaves community stunned
WHITEVILLE, NC (WWAY) — Crews in Columbus County are investigating after a morning fire burns through part of a major elementary school there, causing the district to cancel classes.
The school system’s spokesman said the fire started around 6 a.m. and likely destroyed the main building there. That building, constructed in 1936, was home to four classrooms, a computer lab, media center, and auditorium.
School officials said a custodian and the manager of the cafeteria were on campus at the time but were not harmed.
The school’s campus is made up of several buildings but officials said it did not appear that any of the other buildings were effected.
“One building burned. The pod buildings were saved and no damage to any of the other buildings,” said Superintendent of Columbus County Schools Alan Faulk.
As investigators work to find what started the blaze, generations of folks are devastated.
“It is just a terrible day. It is just a loss,” said K.M. Simmons who attended the school and later taught there.
School staff along with residents and emergency workers on scene said Old Dock Elementary was so much more than just a school to the community.
“So many people depended on this school. So many people were affected by it. Just about everybody in the community went to school here, and have so many memories of this building,” said Simmons.
As the community watched their school burn, smoke billowing from it could be seen from miles away. There were reports of smoke clouds from Shallotte and Tabor City.
Old Dock was once designated for students K-12, but now it serves K-5 students. Faulk said he is hoping for some normalcy for those students in the coming days. To achieve that, he said as soon as he can get clearance five mobile classrooms will be brought to site.
“I would like to keep all children on campus if possible,” said Faulk.
Columbus County Emergency Services said because of the size of the fire, it had to call in crews from Bladen and Brunswick counties to assist them.
“This was actually a huge fire for our community,” said EMS Director Kay Whorley. “They brought all their equipment and manpower.”
Equipment included pumpers and tankers which carried the all water to put out the fire because there are no hydrants in that area.
Image courtesy: Morgan Nye