.The Whitwell police and fire departments responded to a fire alarm at Whitwell High School at approximately 2:00 AM CST on Sunday morning.
When the responding officer arrived on the scene, he said he could see smoke and flames inside of the school. Within minutes, members of the Whitwell Volunteer Fire Department arrived and quickly extinguished the fire.
Authorities checked other buildings on the school’s campus after the area affected was secured including the vocational building, gymnasium and auditorium and field house. A check of those buildings and the all-clear on the other Whitwell school campuses adjacent to the high school (Whitwell Elementary and Whitwell Middle) left them the opportunity to begin searching for the cause of the fire, which didn’t take very long.
Authorities with the Whitwell Police and Marion County Sheriff’s Department immediately launched an arson investigation after video evidence they obtained from the school’s security cameras showed a male subject spilling an accelerant around the hallways of the school just before the fire alarm sounded.
Police believe the suspect broke into the school on the western end of the building and used gasoline as an accelerant.
Officials say the damage was minimal leaving only smoke damage and a strong gasoline smell, all of which was cleaned up by crews on Sunday afternoon.
Director of schools, Dr. Mark Griffith, confirmed that the cleanup Sunday and other repairs will allow the school to open as normal on Monday.
This incident comes the night after the Whitwell Tigers football team brought home the TSSAA Class 1A State Championship trophy following their 7-6 victory over the Cornersville Bulldogs in Cookeville on Saturday.
Whitwell Police Chief Billingsley credits the quick response from the fire department for the minimal damage to the building.
Authorities are offering a $1000 reward for any information regarding the incident or the arsonist who set the blaze. If you have any information that might be helpful in the investigation, contact the Whitwell Police Department or the Marion County Sheriff.