Lighting struck Smiley Elementary’s gymnasium at around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, causing a fire to break out on the Long County school’s roof, according to Long County/Ludowici Fire Chief Richard Truman.
School system maintenance supervisor Jimmy Walker said a custodian saw the fire as she was reporting to work and called 911.
Truman said once firefighters made it to the roof, they extinguished the blaze in about three or four minutes. The fire, which damaged about 40 square feet, burned through the roof’s asphalt but did not pass through the metal ceiling. Truman also said the gym’s interior sustained minor smoke and water damage.
The lightning bolt that started the blaze reportedly struck an antenna that had been placed on the roof to boost radio transmissions between walkie-talkies used on campus for buses and security purposes. Walker said the antenna no longer is in use.
As a result of the incident, students, buses and faculty members who were en route to Smiley Elementary were diverted to the New Beginning Church, which is just past the school, said Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters. Faculty members were allowed back on campus at around 7:30 a.m. to prepare for students, who arrived at 8. By 8:30 a.m., everyone was back on campus and classes were in session, Waters said.
“Everything went very smooth, and the fire department did a great job,” he said. “It was a team effort from everyone.”