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Smith Voc. superintendent gives update after school sustains storm and fire damage

Now, the community is focused on rebuilding.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 7:45 PM EDT
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NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - We now know what fire investigators believe started the fire that destroyed a building at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton yesterday. Evidence points to a hot lawnmower.

This happened just hours after storms ripped a roof off another building on school grounds. Now, the community is focused on rebuilding.

The Northampton Fire Chief and State Fire Marshal said that a lawnmower played a role in the 2-alarm fire that ravaged the horticultural building. Meanwhile, the school community is focusing on moving forward and feeling the support from all across western Massachusetts.

“When you see the destruction behind me, the first question is, how did nobody get hurt?” said Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker.

Linkenhoker and his staff are picking up the pieces after a 2-alarm fire broke out in the horticultural building, which will have to be torn to the ground as early as this week.

“All corners of the Commonwealth have reached out to us asking, ‘What can we do to help you out?’ and it’s really emotional and heartwarming,” Linkenhoker told us.

A separate incident in Sunday night’s storm took down part of the roof on the D building, displacing 150 students before Monday’s fire.

The superintendent gave Western Mass News a look at the destruction left behind. State and local fire investigators said the exhaust from a hot lawnmower most likely came into contact with combustible materials, causing the fire to break out. They said the structure alone will be a $400,000 loss.

Linkenhoker said the school is currently figuring out what insurance will cover and leaning on the overwhelming support from the community, including state officials, the Department of Education, school alumni, and more than a dozen vocational school superintendents.

“People want to help,” Linkenhoker told us. “People want to be part of a community, and we want to provide that opportunity to them.”

Linkenhoker said he saw a similar outpouring of support when he served as principal of Monson High School in 2011 when a tornado ripped through the town.

In spite of the damage, he is focusing on a stroke of good fortune that limited potential widespread destruction.

“When the fire broke out, we had a fire truck on campus for a totally unrelated matter, and because they were on site when the fire broke out, they started attacking the fire 10 minutes before the fire alarm went off inside the building,” Linkenhoker said. “We would have lost everything. Chances are that 10 minutes saved the animals next to us, so again, we were truly blessed.”

He even added that the D building is back open to students, which will allow those displaced in the horticultural building a home for the rest of the school year.

“As far as operations of the school, we haven’t missed a beat really, which is really, again, amazing,” Linkenhoker said.

School officials told us that they are currently assembling a list of equipment to itemize what they lost and which they will send out shortly for those looking to help.