Arson suspected in U.S. Jones fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Arson is suspected in a August 18 fire in the oldest section of U.S. Jones Elementary, said Demopolis Assistant Fire Chief Joey Morgan. One recently remodeled classroom was destroyed while two others received smoke damage.

The Demopolis Fire Department received the call at 11:27 p.m. Sunday. "There was heavy fire and smoke showing out of one of the classrooms on the back side," Morgan said. "The firefighters went in and put the fire out rather quickly, probably within about five or six minutes. It took us probably another 30 minutes to check for hidden fires.

One classroom received major heat and smoke damage.

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…It did appear to us that someone had gone in through the doorway and started the fire," he said. "There were several fires that were attempted to be started in the room. The major fire was in a closet…Luckily it was contained to one room."

All classes in the affected portion of the school will be transferred to the First United Methodist Church until the rooms can be cleaned and remodeled, U.S. Jones Principal Tony Speegle said Tuesday. ServPro of Tuscaloosa had been consulted for the cleanup, but Speegle did not know how long the process would take.

Speegle was contacted at 11:30 p.m. after the fire department had been contacted. He arrived at 11:40. As soon as he came around to the front of the building, he was told the fire was out.

Motorists are asked to watch for children in the coming weeks as they walk from the school to classes at the church.

Morgan reported that there were other suspicious fires in Demopolis the night before and the same night of the U.S. Jones fire. There was a fire at a vacant Housing Authority apartment buildings and involving a car nearby on South Ash Street. There was also a suspicious fire at a wooden storage building on Arcola Road.

Firefighters also responded at the time of the school incident to a fire at Back 40 Produce on South Cedar Street and a garbage can fire an hour later.

The state fire marshall investigated the U.S. Jones site Monday and determined it was an arson case, Morgan said.

There are no suspects although several people have been interviewed during the investigation.

The Demopolis Fire Department and Police Departments are working together on the case. Police patrols have been stepped up in the area of the U.S. Jones school, and Morgan said their had been no other fire incidents since Sunday.

If anyone has any information about these suspicious fires, please contact the fire or police departments.

A fund has been established to help pay for books and materials destroyed in the fire.