September 26, 2023

UPDATED: Major fire at Parklane Academy destroys P.E. gym, cancels classes

Therese Apel

Parklane Academy fire. Photo by Matt Williamson, The Enterprise-Journal
Parklane Academy’s P.E. gym burned Monday night.
Photos: Dustin Harrington

Parklane Academy students are not at school today after a large fire on campus Monday night.

The 20,000 square foot building that caught fire and began to collapse in on itself late Monday night was the P.E. gym. Firefighters from all over Pike County were called to fight the fire.

McComb Fire Department Chief Gary McKenzie said the building is metal and built with steel I-beams, so the structure was strong.

“Whey you see a 24-inch I-beam bent like that, you know it was a hot fire,” McKenzie said. “It was well built, though, and even though the roof collapsed entirely, it maintained its integrity so essentially it’s an oven.”

Parklane Academy’s P.E. gym burned Monday night.
Photo: Dustin Harrington

Photos from licensed drone pilot Dustin Harrington show the roof crumpled and draped over the beams that remained Tuesday morning. Photos taken by the Enterprise-Journal’s Matt Williamson show firefighters knocking down the hotspots in and around the gym.

McKenzie said the first call came to the 911 center from a passerby around 11:29 p.m. and firefighters were there by 11:34 to find heavy flames showing from the exterior.

Video from passerby Ken Godbolt shows the heavy flames coming through the upper windows of the building.

McKenzie said from what he can tell in video footage, it looks like the fire had a 15-20 minute headstart on firefighters. So far, he said it appears that it started on the northeast corner of the building, and it took roughly 55 minutes for firefighters to bring it under control and several more hours to get the hotspots extinguished.

The P.E. gym had two full basketball courts, and several classrooms on the second story on the west end, McKenzie said. It had spray foam insulation on the ceiling and the walls, as well as a rubberized coating on the floor. The Chief said there were a lot of the padded mats stacked up against the wall, and two pallets of hand sanitizer leftover from Covid.

“So there was a tremendous fire load. It had very large I-beams, and those things are twisted and warped from the heat, so it was a very hot, very fast fire,” McKenzie said.

It’s still under investigation, so at this point McKenzie said the details are preliminary and it appears to be accidental in nature. It’s too early to say for certain until the investigation is finished.

The chief said the coordinated efforts of both the professional and the volunteer departments, the response flowed smoothly.

“Over the last 10-12 years we’ve made a lot of improvements at McComb and at all the departments in the county, and we’ve done a lot of joint training. It has made all the difference in the world,” McKenzie said.

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