Smith Vocational sustains fire damage one day after roof collapses in storm

Students described to Western Mass News the chaotic scene that unfolded, and fire officials told us the building is now unusable.
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 10:19 PM EDT
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NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton is dealing with a fire in one campus building just a day after the roof of a different building at the school partially collapsed during Sunday night’s storm.

Crews were called to the scene around 2 p.m. Monday afternoon, but the school has had a pretty tough go of it over the last two days. We spoke with officials as well as student athletes who were getting ready for practice when the chaos unfolded.

It was a series of unfortunate events at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. First, on Sunday night, strong winds blew the roof off of building D during a storm. Then on Monday, building E went up in flames.

“A lot of commotion and scramble,” recalled sophomore Alex Martinez. “Everyone to get a video, get home. You know, there were some people who were like, ‘oh that’s kinda cool.’ Some people were just really panicked.”

Students described to Western Mass News the chaotic scene that unfolded, and fire officials told us the building is now unusable.

“The building’s probably a complete loss at this point,” said Northampton Fire Chief Jon Davine. “There are a couple of classrooms that didn’t get any fire damage, but it’s got water and smoke damage.”

Chief Davine told Western Mass News that there was roughly $400,000 in damage to just the building alone, which does not even include all of the equipment.

“I mean, there’s tractors in there, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, wood splitters,” he said. “I mean, everything they have on campus is back there.”

Fire crews were able to knock down the 2-alarm fire fairly quickly, but remained on scene for several hours taking care of hotspots. Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker said the incident came as a shock, but he is glad all students are safe and accounted for.

“I want to applaud our staff,” Linkenhoker said. “They did yeoman’s work getting all the students away from the fire. It was a blessing that it was almost at dismissal time, so we were trying to get all the students on the buses, on the vans, and out of here at the same time that the fire department was showing up.”

He told us work will begin on replacing the roof early Tuesday morning, and they hope to have that building, which hosts around 150 students, reopened by Wednesday. In the meantime, staff worked to set up temporary outdoor classrooms as well as classrooms in both the library and cafeteria.

While Monday’s fire came as an inconvenience, they are ready to adapt.

“That’s the horticulture program,” said Linkenhoker. “There’s about 18 students on any given week that would be displaced. Luckily, the instructors did a great job saving a lot of the equipment so the students will have things to do for the rest of the school year.”

Officials believe a piece of equipment in the building may have caught on fire, but the fire is under investigation by the Northampton Fire and Police Departments as well as troopers assigned to the State Fire Marshal’s office.

The superintendent told us that they will still hold school on Tuesday. Meantime, State Senator Jo Comerford told us that she has already been in contact with school leaders to offer all necessary state support to assist with rebuilding costs.