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Cause undetermined in tech center fire
The blaze which destroyed the main building of the Pike-Lincoln Technical Center in Eolia on Friday, Dec. 2 was so intense the Missouri State Fire Marshall’s office could not find a cause.
“The official cause is undetermined,” said Lincoln County Fire Marshall Barry Nuss on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
“The fire damage was too great to determine whether it was accidental or incendiary, but no foul play is suspected,” Nuss said. “An electrical short was found be don’t know if it caused, or was caused by the fire.”
Fire investigators had to lift and sift the ruins with heavy equipment before state fire investigators could safely get in to view the damage on Monday, Dec. 5, Nuss said.
Meanwhile, most tech center classes will resume Friday, Dec. 9 at the vacant Clopton Middle School on Hwy. WW next to Clopton High.
Tech Center Director Krista Flowers said Dec. 2 that firefighters informed her the building’s welding shop was “engulfed in flames,” when they arrived.
The fire was spotted about 6:15 p.m., and 125 firefighters and 40 engines from all over Pike and Lincoln counties responded.
Two large ladder engines from Lincoln County shot water onto the roof of the structure, part of which eventually collapsed.
Fire engines got water from the tall blue water tower on Hwy. NN near Bowling Green at one point. Firefighters also used two large portable water reservoirs at the scene to keep dousing the blaze.
The fire quickly spread into the attic of the 32,000 square-foot metal building, according to Clopton R-III Schools Superintendent Mark Harvey, who presides over the tech center as well.
The ceiling area of the building continued to pour out smoke as the firefighters battled the blaze. Strong winds fueled the fire and spread thick, whit acrid smoke out in a large plume above the building.
Firefighters initially attacked the inside of the flaming structure, but were forced to withdraw when the ceiling became compromised.
No one was inside of the building or injured, Flowers said at the scene. Several tech faculty and former students were among the firefighters who doused the blaze, Flowers said.
“We don’t have a true figure yet of the cost,” Harvey said. However, he estimated the loss of equipment and the building itself would easily be several million dollars. The building and its contents appear to be a total loss but that is yet to be officially determined,” Harvey said. Insurance adjusters were on the scene on Friday night at the fire site.
One major concern is damage to the geothermal wells used to heat and cool the buildings at the Eolia site, Harvey said. The new and untouched diesel and auto tech center next door to the main building utilizes the system.
Clopton School District personnel have been working since the weekend to get the Clopton Middle School ready for the center’s computer, nursing, business, and construction classes.
“There should be adequate space for all of them,” Harvey said. Auto and diesel tech students will remain at the Eolia building and auto collision students will be transferred to that site as well.
Students will be bused from the Lincoln and Pike county schools they attend to the temporary tech school site, Harvey said.
Nursing students’ practicums will remain wherever they are serving and will not be affected.
Technical schools in the state have agreed to send supplies to the new school site and trucks were being sent out this week to pick them up, Harvey said.
Seven area schools send students to the center. Pike County school districts include: Bowling Green R-I, Louisiana R-II and Clopton. Lincoln County school districts include: Silex R-I, Elsberry R-II, Troy R-III and Winfield R-IV. April Bryant, community relations specialist for the Lincoln County R-III School District, said approximately 80 students attend the center from the school. The school contacted area businesses and planned field trips to the businesses of the student’s training. They included Bodine Aluminum, Jerry Bickel Race Cars, Valvoline, Signal Technologies, Crider Center, Troy Family Dental and the Lincoln County Journal were among the early responders to this effort.
Adult students from the surrounding counties take courses at PLTC during both day and evening classes.
The Clopton School District is the fiscal agent of the center, Harvey said.
The center began in the late 1960s because of a need for vocational training in northeast Missouri.
“The district, administration, and board of education would like to thank the local fire departments, those from the multiple counties that responded to the fire, and anyone who provided assistance during the initial hours of this crisis,” Harvey wrote in a press release.