Fire damages AJ Middle School

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By Kayla Vaughn

Fire crews scrambled to Andrew Jackson Middle School about 9:30 Thursday night, responding to a fire that started in a janitor's closet. Black smoke was rolling through the building when firefighters arrived.

The fire was extinguished, but there was extensive smoke damage in the building. School has been canceled for Friday.

More than 20 emergency vehicles were in the parking lot outside the school at the height of the response, their lights flashing. Firefighters could be seen going into the building, and there was activity on the roof. No flames were visible from outside the building, but smoke could be seen.

About 10:30, Darren Player of Lancaster County Fire Rescue said the fire was under control and appeared to have started in a janitor's closet. The building sustained significant smoke damage, but the extent was unknown.

On the scene, Tim Deaton of the Heath Springs Volunteer Fire Department said none of the firefighters were injured. Black smoke was rolling through the building when fire crews arrived, he said. The Kershaw Volunteer Fire Department was first on the scene, he said.

Kershaw Fire Chief Doug Spinks said smoke damage extended down 4 feet from the ceiling.

School district spokesman David Knight said the middle school will be closed Friday as officials assess the needed repairs and determine how long it might take to reopen, but he stressed that all other schools in the county will be open Friday. He said there was "crazy smoke damage" inside the school.

Knight said an AJMS field trip to Myrtle Beach for sixth graders will still leave at 6:30 a.m. Friday, but it will leave from AJ High rather than the middle school.

School Superintendent Jonathan Phipps was on the scene during the fire and entered the building to see the damage once it was safe. He said the cleanup at AJMS would begin Thursday night.

Phipps said he was grateful that the fire started at night when no events were going on at the school.

More details will be posted as they are available.

Staff writer Greg Summers and correspondent David Kellin contributed to this article.