Liberal residents concerned after old high school building burns down
Residents express concern arsons are continuing
LIBERAL, Mo. — UPDATE:
Barton County authorities have arrested two men in connection with the fire at the old Liberal High School.
Official charges have not been filed at this time, so authorities aren’t releasing any names yet, only that the men are 27 and 24 years old.
Below is the whole release from the Barton County Sheriff’s Office.
“Within minutes the windows were broken, the flames were coming out and it was just.. it took off so quickly,” explains Michaelle Holderness, a Liberal resident who watched in dismay as the old high school building was engulfed in flames on Sunday night.
She lives across the street from the school, and can’t quite explain the sight.
“It was unnerving. I can’t even right now put a feeling to it,” says Holderness.
According to the Liberal Fire Chief, the blaze started just after 10:00 PM in the unused high school building but quickly spread to the elementary gymnasium.
The Liberal Volunteer Fire Department received help from the Lamar Fire Department, Nevada Fire Department, and the Pittsburg Fire Department, and was able to keep the fire from spreading to the nearby Elementary school.
The district canceled school on Monday, as crews tore down what was left of the school because it was unstable and unsafe.
Many residents are sad to see it go.
“Had a lot of good teachers in there that taught me a lot,” explains Liberal Native Josh Bean. “Had a lot of good times there. Just sad that it’s gone now.”
Officials can’t say much about the fire at this point because it is under investigation.
But, the Liberal fire chief says this is the 5th fire to happen in town in just over a week.
The first happened on the 15th when a shed behind the First Baptist Church burned down.
Then on the 16th, the school district’s old bus barn burned down, along with one of their busses, a tractor, and some other equipment.
On the 19th, an abandoned building was engulfed, and then on the 20th, the department put out a fire at another abandoned building.
All this comes after a string of fires that are being considered arsons in June and July… something that’s causing a lot of concern and anxiety in the community.
“For me, the concern is, it is gradually gone from just empty shed to an empty house, to an old school bus barn, and now to the school,” says Holderness. “The magnitude of these is getting so much greater. What’s next? Are they gonna burn somebody’s house down?”
The State Fire Marshal’s office is investigating the fire and hasn’t confirmed if the school fire — or any of the other fires recently — are being investigated as arsons.
But residents think it’s too big of a coincidence.
“I just hope they catch the people doing it and give them the worst punishment there is,” says Bean.
Authorities do believe several earlier fires in Liberal this summer were arsons.
Two suspects were charged in connection to four fires.
Right now, they’re free as they await court action.
Zachary Workman and Thomas Ingram, both of Liberal, face four counts of second-degree arson.
Authorities say the fires happened in late June and early July.
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