THOMASVILLE, N.C. -- Thomasville fire investigators are trying to get to the bottom of what caused the old Kern Street School to catch on fire. Police got the call around 6:41 p.m. on Thursday, when someone reported that they saw black smoke billowing from the old building.
Another person attending a neighboring church happened to see the same thing.
"I was actually inside eating some supper with my kids, just picked it up and stopped by. It was about 6:30. It was about 6:40 when another gentleman came in and just asked if we'd seen the black coming out of the school," Joshua Apples said.
He said he and his kids hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary when they walked into the Park Place Baptist Church right across the street. When they heard about the black smoke, they rushed to see what was going on.
"Soon after we started hearing sirens and the fire trucks showing up. Surprised, I had no clue that was happening, especially since I had just pulled in like 10 minutes beforehand," Apples said.
They found first responders filling the street.
Thomasville Fire Chief Martin Dailey said it took a team of six units and 40 firefighters to fight the fire and get it under control.
"My kids were definitely interested and a little worried about what was happening," Apples said. "They were running around, checking to see where the fire trucks were and what they all were doing. Watching them as they were going through the building."
Dailey said they found a lot of trash and vandalism while inspecting the building. The school didn't have any electricity, so investigators believe the fire was intentionally set.
Officials and people in the neighborhood said the building has been abandoned for a while.
"Thankfully our church has a good reputation out here in the neighborhood and people actually look out for our church, making sure that nobody does anything to us," Apples said.
The fire chief said things like this happen when buildings aren't secured properly or when they're easily accessible. They're asking the community to contact police if they've seen or heard anything.