BELLE MINA, Ala. (WHNT) - A fire that gutted an abandoned school gymnasium during the early, pre-dawn hours Monday morning is now being called arson. The gym at the old Belle Mina Junior High School on Mooresville Road was essentially destroyed. Investigators say there's little doubt the fire was intentionally set.
No word on how long this blaze might have smoldered before it was discovered and phoned in. By the time firefighters could get control of the blaze, it had gutted the old school gymnasium in Belle Mina. With utilities having been turned off more than 20 years ago, investigators immediately suspected arson.
Speaking with Limestone County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk at the site of the fire, he said, "It's a real tragedy is what it is. This building had a lot of life left in it and it's unfortunate that life was cut short by this tragic fire." Sisk added, "And I guess its probably more heartbreaking to know that somebody would have intentionally set this."
The superintendent tells WHNT News 19 that two carloads of young people were asked to leave the property on Sunday, just hours before the fire was discovered. It's unknown if they had anything to do with the blaze, but investigators would like to speak with them. Meanwhile, Sisk says plans to sell or lease the property for development will likely be put on hold.
"It was going to be a significant investment in this part of the county, in the Belle Mina community, and its just very disappointing to see this happen," Sisk said.
School officials tell us for them the fire represents the loss of several hundred thousand dollars worth of potential revenue. What's more, the superintendent tells us that now they're going to have to spend money to come out and tear down what the fire has left behind.
Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely says anyone with any information about the fire should either contact his office or the Alabama Arson Hotline at 1-800-654-0775. The sheriff says a reward is available for information that helps solve the case.
-- Al Whitaker