A late night blaze at the old Pernell School in southwest Garvin County has not only left a physical scar in it's community, but plenty of emotional ones as well.
It was around 9:53 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24 when the Pernell Volunteer Fire Department received a call about the fire at the closed campus and around 10 p.m. when firefighters arrived at the scene, according to Fire Chief Brent Balentine.
Aside from the gymnasium about the time firefighters arrived, the building was fully engulfed and it wasn't long before that remaining section also caught fire.
“When we arrived on scene, the entire school building was burning.” said Balentine.“Everything that could burn, did burn.”
As it was largely an abandoned structure and required more water than was available to be able to quickly handle the fire, the focus ended up being primarily on nearby residences, including the RV of an individual who is the owner of the property.
Balentine said all that remains are the rock walls and that while the sight did not pose a threat to the area Thursday morning, it was still smoldering that afternoon.
Balentine noted that ultimately no one was injured and firefighters were able to contain it to the school. However, he noted that state fire marshals would be investigating the blaze due to it's suspicious nature.
“It's currently under investigation for arson,” said Balentine, pointing out how there were no connected electrical or other services that could have started the fire and one thing that will be checked is if an accelerant was used.
“It kind of leads to suspicion, but won't lead to conclusion until the fire marshal completes the investigation.”
Balentine added it was hard to see what was at one point a part of his life growing up destroyed, his memories coming from attending school through sixth grade there.
There are others who live in the area, including some of the firefighters, who also attended the school at one point before it closed in the early 1990s.
“It was a small school and real tight knit and a great experience going to school. It had been abandoned over 20 years, but when you see it on fire it makes it a lot worse,” said Balentine. “The main thing we were concerned with was protecting lives and the property around and we did that.”
It also hits close to home for those like Gary Chaffin, who spent the last few years the Pernell school was open coaching basketball and helping those like current PV Mayor Gary Alfred coach football.
He proudly talked about how well the school did even though it didn't have all the resources of larger schools and that quite a few of those who transferred when it closed went on to earn honors like valedictorian at other schools.
One thing that sticks with Chaffin is that some of the greatest moments of his coaching career were with those kids.
In the last year, he remembers coaching the eight-man squad for football, which managed to play through tough games even though they regularly finished with less than the minimum number on the field.
“It was very sad last night when everyone started sending me pictures,” said Chaffin, who these days is the girl's basketball coach at Pauls Valley High School.
“There were so many great things about the community and the kids, everybody took care of everybody. Those kids on that football team, we get together every year and go fishing.”
Also assisting were the Elmore City, Katie and Rush Creek volunteer fire departments.