May 22, 2023
The South Carolina fire service, members of local and state government, community members, and descendants of victims of the tragic Cleveland School came together last week to remember the lives lost during the 100th anniversary ceremony on May 17, 2023. The fire is regarded as the single largest loss of life in South Carolina history outside of war.
A seminar was held the evening of May 16, 2023 at the Revolutionary War Visitor Center in Camden to detail the events of that tragic night in 1923, how the fire changed fire and life safety in South Carolina, and featured family members of those impacted by the fire.
South Carolina State Fire Marshal Jonathan Jones was the master of ceremonies for the seminar and greeted the crowd with a thanks to the families for allowing us to remember their loved ones. Speakers included Chief Carter Jones, Battalion Chief Chris Jones, Chief John Bowers, Chief Will Glover, Chief Joe Palmer, Deputy Chief Eddie Gardner (descendant of survivor), Jeanette McCaa (community member), Rusty Major (descendant of survivor), and Ann Segars (descendant of survivor). Several statewide and national guests were in attendance, including Senators Thomas McElveen and Penry Gustafson, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator Tonya Hoover, National Fire Sprinkler Association President Shane Ray, and National Fire Sprinkler Association Vice President Vickie Pritchett.
The main event of the week was the memorial service on May 17, 2023. Services were held at the site of the school and at the mass grave at the Beulah Church. The processional from the school site to Beulah Church was led by the 1920 Seagrave—the same engine that responded to the Cleveland School fire the night of May 17, 1923.
The ceremony was made possible by a joint effort between Camden Fire Department, Lugoff Fire Department, Kershaw County Fire Service, and Beulah Church.
State Fire Marshal Jonathan Jones repeated his role as master of ceremonies for the morning memorial. In addition to descendants of survivors, community members, and fire service personnel, those in attendance included Kershaw County Council Chairwoman Katie Guinn, Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford, Kershaw County School District Superintendent Harrison Goodwin, Lugoff Fire Chief Chris Spitzer, Senators Thomas McElveen and Penry Gustafson, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator Tonya Hoover, National Fire Sprinkler Association President Shane Ray, National Fire Sprinkler Association Vice President Vickie Pritchett, National Fire Protection Association Southeast Region Director Robby Dawson, LLR Director Emily Farr, and Governor Henry McMaster.
Many thanks to the Charlotte Thompson community, Cleveland School Fire 100th Anniversary Committee, Beulah Church, and every fire service organization who assisted in organizing and preparing for the events of the week. To the descendants of survivors, thank you for sharing your families' stories and allowing the South Carolina fire service to commemorate your loved ones' legacies.
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