In McDowell County, Big Creek High School was set to be demolished on Monday, July 20, 2015 but it went up in flames before that could happen on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Several crews worked to put out the fire, with the West Virginia State Fire Marshal along with five different fire departments reporting to the scene. The call came in just after 5 a.m. July 17. Firefighters said when they arrived, the roof of the gymnasium had already caved in.
West Virginia native Homer Hickam, who went on to become a NASA scientist and wrote about his experiences at Big Creek High School in the novel “Rocket Boys” which was adapted to the big-screen blockbuster “October Sky.”
“The second and third floor was involved pretty good and the old gymnasium was on fire pretty good,” said Chief of the War Volunteer Fire Department Matthew Dash. “At that time, it was really too dangerous to go inside. We’ve got it knocked down quite a bit from what it was this morning.”
One firefighter from the Coalwood Volunteer Fire Department said he graduated from Big Creek.
“There really wasn’t nothing we could do. I mean we’re going to miss it,” said Cody Roberts. “It is a landmark. Everybody in West Virginia pretty much knows about Big Creek High School.”
No injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Statement from Homer Hickam:
“I am so saddened by this probable arson that occurred the same week as the school was going to be torn down. Although there is never an excuse for arson, I think it reflects the level of frustration and demoralization that has occurred in the area. Reflecting on it, I think this could have all been handled so much better. Some recognition of the school and its contributions was in order, similar to decommissioning a warship and attendant ceremonies, rather than simply bringing in the bulldozers as if it were just another building. The people of the county have suffered much during the past 40 + years and this is another painful episode. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to celebrate the life there in my books before the changes began and I have hope for a renaissance there in the future but, for now, this hurts.”