Lightning bolt sets fire to school

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MOUNT PLEASANT -- Staff members of a central Utah school are figuring out what to do next after a lightning strike burned their school down.

Top Flight Academy in Mount Pleasant is a school for young men between the ages of 12 and 17 who have behavioral or emotional issues. Eleven students currently live at the school, and all were there Monday at about noon when the lightning storms rolled into Sanpete County.

"They were getting loud and close, and all of a sudden there was a big explosion. It was extremely loud. It shook the house," said Clayton Justensen, the school's executive director.

At first, they didn't think they were hit, until they went upstairs to check. Justensen says a lightning bolt put a hole in the top of the roof, causing rain water to start pouring into the building.

"We smelled smoke and saw smoke coming out of some outlets, and so we immediately evacuated all of our residents," Justensen said. "Soon after we got out, the smoke started to increase, and then we started seeing flames coming out of the attic."

Fire crews and rain from the storm helped put the fire out, but the damage had already been done.

Justensen wants this fire to be another life lesson for his students.

"You know, every challenge is an opportunity to grow and to learn from, and we're doing our best to do that," he said. "This is obviously devastating to all of us. Nobody expects to have their home struck by lightning, and then be consumed by flames."

Top Flight Academy is a licensed residential treatment program that accepts students from all across the country. It's a nine-month program that includes individual, group and family therapy. The highlight of the program is where students learn to fly airplanes.

"There is a lot of value in teaching a young man how to fly, how to do something that is challenging but very rewarding," Justensen said.

Now, it's just a matter of waiting for the insurance company to find out if there is enough of the original structure to try and save and rebuild from there, or if they have to knock it all down.

The staff says they want to stay put.

"This work is a passion of ours, helping these young men. We'd like to get it restored as soon as we could and move on," said Justensen.

For now, students are staying in a nearby hotel. Staff members are looking for a temporary building while waiting to see what happens with their own building.



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