A lightning strike in the early hours of Friday morning is being blamed for igniting a fire that destroyed the Stewart Valley School and Community Centre.
Smoke was discovered around 6:40 a.m. during an inspection of the facility and minutes later it was all hands on deck for firefighters from the village, the RM of Saskatchewan Landing, and the Swift Current Fire Department.
Darwin Johnsgaard, the reeve and a firefighter for the RM of Saskatchewan Landing, said an early investigation over the weekend revealed the storm fried the electrical system which was located in the roof, close to styrofoam insulation.
"They believe it probably instantly started that styrofoam smoldering because of the lightning making the wiring red hot," he said. "Then of course the smoldering and flames were between the upper roof and lower roof and we couldn't get water at it."
Fire crews were unable to begin attacking the flames until they burnt through the roof.
"By that time we knew the school was a goner," he said. "We were hoping we could save the hall. The inspectors believed that the wiring, when it got fried, would have went into the kitchen and hall area as well."
An issue with a nearby fire hydrant also complicated things, however, numerous farmers in the area came to the aid of the multiple fire departments.
"They brought 10,000s of thousands of gallons of water to the fire departments," he said. "They filled a swimming pool that was about 16 by 16 by about two feet high. They kept that right full and the fire team out of Swift Current was able to keep all their hoses pumping full from that."
Johnsgaard believes between 100,000-150,000 gallons of water were used to extinguish the fire.
Nothing was left standing but brick when he wrapped up his 14-hour day Friday to head home. A pair of Swift Current firefighters spent the night out there with a security agent to ensure the fire didn't re-ignite.
"It was a big effort on everyone's part and a big loss for the community," he said. "We're just hoping we get a school to replace this. Today will be the first day that everyone gets back to work and there will be lots of decisions made between insurance and the school board."
During the damage inspection of the building on Saturday Johnsgaard said two bibles were the only documents left unscathed from the inferno.
The RM of Saskatchewan Valley thanks everyone for lending a helping hand from being brought food and coffee to tanks and trucks full of water.