Lightning ignites fire in old school on North Ellis St

Published 6:48 pm Sunday, June 11, 2023

SALISBURY — A historic building near downtown Salisbury went up in smoke on Sunday, and all that onlookers could do was watch.

A lightning bolt struck the Power Cross administration building on North Ellis Street around 4:30 p.m. during an otherwise ordinary summer shower.

Within moments, the building, which used to be one of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ central offices, was ablaze.

Salisbury City Attorney Graham Corriher lives across the street and was on his front porch when the lightning struck.

“We were sitting on the porch, my wife, Danielle, and I, looking down and reading, and it just hit,” Corriher said. “There was no question about what it was. There was sort of an explosion and then sparks shot out of the building, and immediately it started smoldering.”

Corriher immediately called 911.

“The fire department was here in less than a minute and a half,” Corriher said. “I was still on the phone with 911 when the first engine pulled up. They had water on it within minutes.”

Another nearby neighbor, Tripp Clement, heard the excitement and came to check out the commotion.

“I thought maybe it was a tree at first,” Clement said. “Then, somebody said something about how they thought a house was on fire. That is when I saw the smoke and came over here, but I never expected the whole [building] to go up in flames like this.”

Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell indicated that his crews were dispatched to the scene at approximately 4:34 p.m.

“Upon arrival, we had fire coming out of the roof,” Parnell said. “Witnesses said it was coming out of all angles when the lighting hit it was almost immediate. When we got here, the fire and smoke was already coming out.”

A structural design impeded the fire crew’s response.

“We think it is a roof built on top of a roof,” Parnell said. “The firefighters went in to hit it from underneath and couldn’t get to it because the old roof is underneath the new roof … The only way to get to it was from above with a hose.”

It was an all-Rowan-hands-on-deck fire as departments from Spencer, Kannapolis, Granite Quarry and Faith pitched in, among others.

The building currently serves Power Cross.

Power Cross Director of Operation Corey Knight was on the scene.

“We got a call from the fire department and rushed over here,” Knight said.

Powercross is a youth sports ministry for young boys.

“We do youth athletics as a way to draw the boys in,” Knight said. “We do football, basketball, baseball and wrestling. We also do bible study, feed them meals and help them with homework. We try to do the whole gamut, to develop the whole young man.”

Knight expressed gratitude that no one was inside at the time, but it still made the sight difficult.

“Initial reaction, it was hard to see,” Knight said. “That was our admin building. It’s not going to stop us from serving the kids we need to serve. We are going to get right back at it and keep doing what we need to do for the young men of this community.”

Knight was optimistic that the service his organization provides would not be disrupted.

” Next steps, we have to talk with the fire department about getting back on site,” Knight said. “Our kids need to be on standby, and if we can get out here and practice this week, we will get out here and practice this week.”

The building previously served as an elementary school before becoming a central office. Its presence lent the neighborhood its name as the Ellis Street Graded School Historic District. It was once an elementary school called Frank B. John Elementary.

The damage appeared extensive, but this story will be updated as more information becomes available.