Union Springs Academy Fire

Crews from multiple departments battle a structure fire in the administrative building at Union Springs Academy Saturday, Dec. 3. 

A fire caused significant damage to the administration building at Union Springs Academy on Saturday, rendering the structure uninhabitable as authorities investigate further.

Crews were dispatched at 1:42 p.m. Saturday to the Union Springs Academy campus, at 40 Spring St. The academy is a Seventh-day Adventist boarding high school.

Union Springs Fire Chief Garret Waldron said Sunday that first responders reported black smoke pouring from the administration building, which has classrooms, offices and the gym. The structure, he said, was reportedly last occupied the night before, with the nearest dormitory roughly 150 feet away.

Union Springs Academy staff met Sunday to discuss a plan to continue school in the wake of the blaze, according to a post Saturday night on the academy's Facebook page.

Forty-eight students are enrolled at Union Springs Academy. Principal Jere Clayburn said Monday that classes have been relocated to the on-campus Seventh-day Adventist Church as staff works to assess the damage.

Clayburn said he expects any structural rehabilitation to take months. However, he said the students and staff are in high spirits.

"We're moving forward and making the best of a challenging situation," he said.

He described the structure as heavily damaged by smoke. The power has been shut off at the building, the academy's hub for landline phone and internet access. Staff is working to set up internet at the church, said Jeremy Garlock, superintendent of schools for the New York Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

Students and staff are unable to retrieve any supplies they left in the building, including books and teaching materials. In the meantime, Clayburn said academy staff picked up some supplies from Staples on Sunday.

Further, Clayburn said the Union Springs Central School District has also reached out and offered support. Union Springs Superintendent Jarrett Powers could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

"The show of support that we've been getting with our community, even though they've had nothing to do with the Seventh-day Adventist Church up to this point, has been very, very encouraging," Clayburn said.

Waldron said the fire started in a foyer of the building and spread to the ceiling, causing extensive heat and smoke damage throughout the structure. The chief said crews later spotted a secondary fire at 4:17 p.m. in a part of the ceiling. Firefighters did not clear the scene until around 9:30 p.m.

No injuries were reported. An investigation into the cause of the blaze is ongoing, but Waldron said it currently looks unintentional. He said Cayuga County fire investigators are using video surveillance footage from the academy.

"A section of the building is going to have to be redone or torn down to make it habitable again," Waldron said.

Structural factors and some village water infrastructure issues challenged firefighters. A nativity scene set up in the foyer — a "large" setup, Waldron described, with hay and straw bales — fueled the fire. Further, the fire chief said the building's construction, with concrete block walls and steel roofing, trapped a lot of heat inside the building.

Waldron said firefighters were a little hampered after finding that two of the three closest fire hydrants were inadequate. He said one had a reduced flow while the other could not provide water at all.

Crews found another hydrant roughly 300 feet away, and Waldron said the additional setup time did not factor into the extent of the damage.

"We had a good water supply to start and were trying to establish a secondary water supply, which is when we found out about the two hydrants," he said. "We had a good hydrant on the initial attack."

Responding fire departments included Aurelius, Aurora, Cayuga, Fleming stations 1 and 2, Poplar Ridge and Scipio.

Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.