Lightning strike causes fire at SouthArk
Fire crews battled blaze at 113-year old historic building well into Saturday
A fire broke out on the roof of the administration building at South Arkansas Community College’s west campus late Friday night.
The 113-year-old building, known as the 1905 Junior College Building on the National Register of Historic Places, caught fire after what has been presumed to be a lightning strike hit the roof around 10:30 p.m. as severe thunderstorms moved through the area. The El Dorado Fire Department arrived on scene at 10:45 p.m. and spent the entire night, and well into Saturday, fighting to extinguish it.
“We had a real problem with this fire because it is such an old building. The attic is over 12 feet tall and we are having issues reaching the roof,” said Assistant Chief and Fire Marshall Jason Evans. “Not to mention the three tornado warnings and the severe thunderstorm warnings that happened through the night. The men had to lower the ladder and take shelter in the trucks while under these warnings.”
The building was unoccupied at the time of the blaze and no one was hurt.
Doug Ferrell, a night security worker for the Murphy Arts District, said he was making his rounds when he heard a large boom.
“It was so strong, it knocked him backwards into the wall from the force,” said Lacey Ferrell, Doug Ferrell’s wife. “He looked towards the boom and saw the after image of the lightning strike. He assumed that it had missed the building until he saw the smoke coming off of it an hour later.”
According to a news release from the college, staff have begun the process of regrouping and assessing next steps, but also are thankful for all the emergency responders and community has done so far.
“We greatly appreciate the diligence and dedication of the local firefighters, who have worked tirelessly to save this important structure,” said SouthArk president Dr. Barbara Jones. “We also appreciate the many members of our community who have expressed their concern about the situation, and their support for the college.”
Jones also went on to say that, as of Saturday, classes will be moved and staff will know when classes will commence once the fire is put out.
“Luckily, very few classes are taught in this building, it’s mostly offices. I hope we can have classes like normal Monday,” Jones said.
Ongoing updates, including the relocation of offices and classes, will be provided through the college’s Facebook page.
The college will be working with a recovery firm after the smoke clears to salvage what they can of the building.
The fire forced cancellation of both ACT testing and the first South Arkansas Literary Festival, both of which were scheduled to be held on campus Saturday.
The fire was contained by Saturday evening. Damage assements are ongoing.
Fire: The smoldering roof of the South Arkansas Community College Adminisration Building can be seen as El Dorado firefighters work to put out a lingering fire that began during Friday night's storms.