Memories set ablaze

Old Sweet Grass County High School being looked at as an arson investigation

A fire erupted from within the old Sweet Grass County High School in the early morning hours of Oct. 6. The fire is being investigated as an arson fire.

Firefighters arrived on the scene just after 1:10 a.m. when the fire was first reported. Evacuations were ordered within a one-block radius of the building, but no one has been permanently displaced. Big Timber Volunteer Fire Department fire chief Kris Novotny was working with a Montana fire marshal and ATF agents to investigate the fire. The Sweet Grass County sheriff’s department is also assisting in the investigation.

“There was some stuff burning in the basement area where everything fell in, and we couldn’t get in,” Novotny said. “We left that overnight and early Saturday morning we came back, it had burned through and we were able to finish it up.”

The initial plan when firefighters arrived was to control the blaze, rather than to quickly extinguish it in hopes of saving the building and any contents inside it. While putting out the fire was top priority, so was keeping the Carnegie Public Library and civic center in 100 percent stable condition. 

On Oct. 11, construction crews were on the scene tearing down the southwest portion of the school. It’s believed the fire started in the basement in the southwest corner of the building. 

Fire Marshal Pat Clinch was on hand to assist in the investigation and said there is no timeline for when they would have a solid conclusion on the investigation. 

The goal on Oct. 11 was to remove any unstable contents and the entire portion of the school that was above the basement where officials think the fire started. After that, law enforcement, ATF agents, the fire marshal and firefighters will go into the basement and investigate the origin of the fire. From initial reactions, Novotny said it looked as if everything in the southwest corner of the school burned from the bottom up, where as it looked as though contents burned from the top, down on the east and southeast sides of the building. 

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at bigtimberpioneer.net.

PHOTO CAPTION: A construction crew member watches as an excavator tears down the southwest portion of the old Sweet Grass County High School on Oct. 11. (STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Big Timber Pioneer)

By STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Pioneer Staff Writer

 

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