Tuesday's Fire Cancels Classes at Cape Fear High School
Posted November 29, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
FAYETTEVILLE — Cape Fear High School will be closed to students and staff for the rest of this week due to damage caused Tuesday morning by a fire officials say was set intentionally.
Firefighters, the Cumberland County Arson Task Force and ATF agents spent Tuesday on campus looking for evidence that would lead them to whoever started the blaze.
The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office stepped up security patrols for the rest of the schools.
Special equipment from the ATF will arrive from Charlotte Tuesday night to try to discover the cause of the fire.
Officials turned surprised teachers and students away while they investigated. "I'm pretty shocked," said student Bryan Lupo. "I just can't believe that at our school, out here in the country, that something like this is going to happen."
A Sheriff's deputy patrolled the building about 30 minutes before the fire broke out at 4 a.m. and reported nothing suspicious.
Cumberland County Sheriff Moose Butler says at least four or five people must have been involved in the incident because the damage was spread throughout the building and because a four-foot brick wall was knocked down, something not done easily by one person.
Officials say the fire broke out on two different floors in the school's main building. It destroyed the gym and was contained to two classrooms, an English class and chemistry lab, but there were some toxic fumes that escaped into the building as well.
The smoke and heat caused significant damage to the structure and walls. School board officials say the arsonists are responsible for more than $1 million in damage.
"There's a great deal of damage, and the interior of the building is destroyed, basically," Butler said. "The steel girders that held the building up has been weakened and bent."
Authorities say there is graffiti with the name of rivalSouth View High Schoolscrawled on walls and on the football field. Officials are not sure whether the graffiti was a ploy to make them believe the fire was set by someone at South View.
South View officials conducted their own investigation but the students they interviewed did not believe anyone from their school committed the act.
"We don't think it was one of our students," said Bob Barnes, principal of South View High School. "We certainly hope it was not one of our students, but if for any reason, it turns out to be one of our students, they won't be one of our students for long."
If there is a lesson to be learned, teachers say it is about respect. "If it's just competition between schools, there's other ways to show your school spirit than burning down the other school. But we don't know. We don't know if that's the case at all," said teacher Lisa Barone.
While investigators combed the campus for clues, everyone was eager for some answers. "It just makes us look like all of us are bad," said student Calab Kent.
Authorities are interviewing more than 100 students who have received in-house or outside suspensions in the last week to learn whether any of them were holding a grudge.
Some Cumberland County schools do have surveillance cameras, but Cape Fear does not, so officials will have no video to help them in their investigation.
Officials saya trailer fireat Cape Fear High School several weeks ago was accidental and unrelated to Tuesday's incident.
Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Cumberland County Sheriff Department at910-323-1500.