EASTABOGA — An old country school building that served the Eastaboga region for some 36 years was destroyed by fire Saturday. The former Eastaboga school, which served elementary and junior high students when it closed in the spring of 1973, was just inside Talladega County along a county road now known as John N. Willis Avenue.
Smoke from the sprawling brick Depression-era structure could be seen for miles as firefighters battled the blaze.
Stephanie Dulaney, a firefighter with the Eastaboga Fire Volunteer Department, said the fire “will be under investigation.” Dulaney was helping to direct the various fire department vehicles as they showed up to help put out the fire.
Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sparks later said by text message that he believed the cause was “probably lightning.” Thunderstorms did pass through the region around midday Saturday.
Firefighters from the Oxford Fire Department, Eastaboga Volunteer Fire Department, Lincoln Fire Department, East Providence Volunteer Fire Department and Mt. Olive Volunteer Fire Department responded to the fire that was reported between 11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. according to Dulaney.
The Oxford Fire Department brought its towering ladder truck to help bring the flames under control. Sparks and Eastboga Fire Chief Stevie Bruce were in the ladder truck directing water from above.
Seeing the school go up in smoke and flames brought back memories for Dulaney, an Eastaboga native.
“My grandfather used to go to school here, it used to be Eastaboga School back many, many years ago,” Dulaney said.
“This is one of those buildings that you hope would never catch on fire, it had heart pine floors in it ... it’s a part of history, a part of Eastaboga history,” said Dulaney.
According to an Anniston Star article from June, 1937, the building that burned Saturday opened in the fall of 1936. Touted at the time as “fireproof,” it replaced a wooden structure that began serving the community in 1923 but burned down under suspicious circumstances on Christmas Day 1935. Its full name was Eastaboga Consolidated School, it was part of the Talladega County system and in the mid-1930s it served around 250 students.
Dulaney said the old building was vacant but used to house a trucking company. Tall grass and unkempt trees surrounded the place as firefighters directed their hoses from every side.
Dulaney said she believed there was no electric service in the building at the time of the fire.
Chad McAdams, an Eastaboga resident whose mother attended the school, said he heard that lightning was the cause of the fire.
“Basically just a tinderbox,” McAdams said.