Investigation begins into former Terrell High building fire - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Investigation begins into former Terrell High building fire

Arson investigators are in Terrell County to determine if the fire that burned the old Terrell County High School was intentional.

Yellow tape still surrounds the building,  and Police say they are treating the area as a crime scene.

A big part of the Terrell County Community are passionate as they watch this investigation get started.

The old High School building was used for 72 years, and generations of families are alumni. Investigators began trying to give them answers this morning.

About 11:15 State fire marshall investigators boarded the Georgia State Patrol helicopter and flew over the remains of the old Terrell County High School.

Dawson Public Safety Director Chief Charlie Whitehead said "It's a crime scene. We treat it as a crime scene, and I haven't been in there yet."

And no one else has either. Since Sunday's fire, Police and fire fighters have stayed back from the building, until today. Investigators took dozens of photos of the building from the air. It is still smoldering in spots. They are looking for evidence of a hot spot. Where the fire began. The preliminary photos showed the hot spot in the back of the auditorium....right in the middle of the building. That is where investigators will start digging.

 Whitehead said "Initially you look for a burn pattern. Once you establish the burn pattern, then you try to determine what cause the fire."

Early Sunday afternoon flames were spotted pouring out of the vacant school building. Built in 1933, the school educated white teens of Terrell County until 1969, when it was integrated. The county's black and white middle and high school students attended there until 2005, when it was closed. School officials say they have had overwhelming response from the community about the loss of a beloved institution.

School Superintendent Robert Aaron said "We are just sorry it happened. They are sorry, upset. When you see those kind of pictures on the Internet and Facebook it really does something to you."

The building was vacant, and the electricity turned off. It had been targeted for demolition, but many in the community wanted to try to renovate the old building. There is lots of speculation about what caused the fire.

Aaron said "It's been so hot, for a number of days. It could have been from humidity. Someone could have gone in accidentally, started the fire. We just don't know."

State fire marshall investigators  started the work to find out what caused the blaze, saying they will treat it as a suspicious fire until they find different.

The county did have the building insured for replacement value. School Superintendent Robert Aaron said when the investigation is complete, what's left of the burned building will be removed. He hopes that county officials will consider building some kind of offices on that site.

State investigators expect to continue working at the scene for the rest of the week.

Copyright 2011 WALB.  All rights reserved.  

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