NOTE: This story has been updated with new information and a response from the state.
FAYETTE COUNTY, Tenn. — Three sources in Fayette County told WREG that Somerville Volunteer firefighters were called to Wilder after a report of a fire at Wilder Youth Development Center.
A spokesperson said the juveniles broke through fire escape doors and damaged property inside of the school and two dorms.
The incident happened New Year’s weekend between Saturday night and Sunday morning. WREG was told the fire turned on the building’s sprinkler system, which quickly knocked down the fire. The state says the fire began from a defective light fixture that landed on a bean bag chair.
The state provided a response below:
“On the night of January 1, youth in two dorms at Wilder Youth Development Center broke through fire escape doors to exit the dorms and run through the enclosed campus. At no time did any of the youth escape the campus perimeter fence, which has recently been secured by additional razor wire. Private security guards, put in place in 2021 as an added safety measure, were patrolling outside the perimeter fence and in contact with Wilder leadership during the incident. Some of the youth also entered the school building. The youth damaged property inside the school and the two dorms. The Tennessee Highway Patrol quickly responded and assisted with getting the youth back into their dorms and restoring order. The Fayette County Fire Department also responded to a small fire inside the school caused by sparks from a defective light fixture. There were no injuries to staff or youth. Troopers have maintained a presence on the campus and it has remained calm since the incident. Criminal charges are likely for youth involved in the incident.”
Velicia Brown lives near Wilder Youth Development, and she says she is concerned every time she hears about problems at the center.
“All I can say is these kids are really out of control,” she said. “This generation is really out of control.”
Wilder, which houses violent juvenile offenders, has been in the news after several reports of escapes, attempted escaped, and riots at the facility north of Somerville.
No injuries were reported and at the time, sources did not know how much fire damage was done to the facility’s school. However, signs were displayed to alert the public of job openings at Wilder.
Brown says this is a sign that things could be improving.
“We actually need people that’s actually going to put their foot down and actually help them and motivate these kids to do better, and that way they won’t be there anymore,” she said.
A spokesperson for the school said criminal charges are likely for the children involved in the incident.