Week also marks 25th anniversary of SHS fire

Published 1:12 am Tuesday, March 13, 2018

This week marks the much talked-about 25th anniversary of an unexpected March snowstorm in Alabama that shut down much of the state, and dropped as much as six inches of snow on Covington County.

But before the snow, there were typical March winds that contributed to a fire at Straughn High School.

According to Star-News archives, firefighters were called to SHS on Thurs., March 11, 1993, when flames were reported in the home economics classroom.

Jeff Holland was a lieutenant with the Andalusia Department of Public Safety’s fire division at the time.

“It was a part of the original school building that had been built a long time ago,” Holland recalled Monday. “It definitely was a heartbreaking loss for Straughn High School, it had been a part of the school for so long.”

According to archives, investigators determined that students were burning leaves outside when a gust of wind tossed the leaves against the fiberglass sheeting at the base of the greenhouse on the north end of the building. Flames engulfed the highly flammable material and spread to the rest of the building before the students could bring the situation under control, an investigator told The Star-News then. Firefighters on the scene said flames flapped 40 to 50 feet above the building.

Sonny Thomasson, now a member of the county board of education, was principal of Straughn at the time. He recalled Monday that there were two or three special ed classes in the same building.

“We got all of the kids out,” he said. “The building was brick on the outside, but it was old. Once the timber on the inside started burning, there was no putting it out.”

Holland also recalled the intensity of the fire.

“It took us about 13-15 minutes to get to Straughn from Andalusia, and when we got there the structure was pretty much fully engulfed,” he said. “To the point where it couldn’t be saved. We wanted to try and save what we could but we were in a defensive mode to protect the other half of the school.”

Several fire departments responded to the fire then. Today, the response would be better, Holland said.

“Today we have volunteer fire departments and fire departments that are closer together and have updated equipment that makes it easier and faster when fighting fires. If we had the equipment we had now to fight the fire back then we could’ve salvaged some of the building. We have become better equipped as fire departments, thanks to better funding from the fire tax.”

“I am thankful that no one was hurt from the fire.”

Thomasson said he put one of the misplaced classes on the stage in the auditorium, and the others in portable buildings.

“In the early 90s, we were growing,” he said. “We had so many portables on the back side of the school, we almost couldn’t get any more in there. Losing those classrooms just made it worse.”