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Fire damages Woodmeade Elementary School roof

By Ronnie Thomas 340-2438

With Decatur City schools out Monday and Tuesday for Columbus Day, students at Woodmeade Elementary School aren't expected to miss any classes because of a roof fire Sunday night.

Principal Angie Whittington said firefighters told her that tar left in a kettle on the roof after workers went home for the day apparently overheated and ignited, catching the roof on fire.

"They were mopping on the tar," she said. "We were having an entire new roof put on, and they were almost finished. They were doing the work on weekends."

She said it appears that the second-grade classroom, at the southwest corner of the building on 19th Street Southwest, is the only room affected.

"The fire was above that room, but it did not burn through to the classroom," she said.

"We haven't been able to turn the lights back on, but from what I could see with flashlights, it appears that the ceiling is OK with some wet spots.

"Until we get the lights back on, we won't know how much water there will be to deal with. But we hope to be squared away and ready for school by Wednesday."

Whittington commended Decatur Fire & Rescue for prompt action. She said firefighters covered computers and a television to protect them.

She said the project supervisor, Ben Newberry of Weathershield of Huntsville, told her the crew would be back Monday to repair the burned area and complete the job.

Russell Johnson, Decatur Fire & Rescue's operations chief for B shift, said the call came about 7 p.m. from passers-by that flames were shooting from the roof. He and 13 firefighters from Stations 2, 4, 5 and 6 responded with three pumpers and a ladder company.

Lt. Dusty Cheatham said a city fire investigator came to the scene after witnesses said they saw some children around the school earlier.

"Anytime there is anything of a suspicious nature, it is best to get it investigated," he said, "but it appears that the kettle just caught fire."

Some people at the school said they were at Westmeade Baptist Church on Beltline Road Southwest and came over when someone noticed flames shooting from the school roof.

One woman, whose daughter teaches at Woodmeade, said firefighters had the fire extinguished by the time they arrived.

"It didn't last long because they put it out in a hurry," she said. "But smoke was thick, and you could smell it in the air."

Whittington, in her second year as principal, said the school has about 320 students, including 36 second-graders.

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