Chief says fire at Grant Elementary School set intentionally

Wednesday, January 2, 2008 | 7:29 p.m. CST; updated 10:14 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Fire Department has determined that a fire at Grant Elementary School was set intentionally.

The fire occurred at 10 E. Broadway in Mobile Classroom D at about 5:40 a.m. Sunday.

Battalion Chief Steven Sapp, public information officer for the Fire Department, said there are no suspects. He said the department isn’t releasing information about the method used to determine that the fire was set intentionally nor the fire’s origin.

Sapp said the department generally determines whether a fire was accidental or incendiary through several factors, including physical evidence and interviews with those in the building around the time of a fire.

Fire investigators are working with the Columbia Police Department’s major crimes unit and Columbia Public School officials on the investigation.

“The Columbia Fire Department met with district building services personnel on Monday to determine if there were any accidental causes of the fire. Their coordinated efforts decided the fire was not accidental,” said Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent of elementary education with Columbia Public Schools.

Jensen said the theory is that the fire started on the fabric of a classroom chair.

“That’s why the fire started so fast and was so hot instantly,” Jensen said.

Beverly Borduin, Grant Elementary School principal, met Wednesday with Assistant Fire Marshal Debbie Sorrell.

“It wasn’t anything electrical or structure-related, which I took as a good thing,” Borduin said. “This means that the trailer was sound and safe for children.”

Borduin said there were a couple of things that led Sorrell to think the fire was arson. Borduin was adamant that, based on the evidence, the fire was not started by a student.

The school has security cameras in the interior of the main building and a burglar alarm outside the main building, but not in the trailers, Borduin said.

Classes resumed at Grant Elementary on Wednesday, and district curriculum specialists had a temporary classroom ready. A music, art and science classroom has been turned into a fifth-grade classroom to house the class affected by the fire, and school supplies were replaced for John Nies’ students, Jensen said.

Nies’ new classroom was decorated by the end of the school day on Wednesday, Borduin said.

“I met with the fifth-graders a couple times today, and Mr. Nies had great learning going on all day,” she said.

The school district’s reserve fund is covering all expenses until the school settles with its insurance company. The insurance will not cover a $25,000 deductible, Jensen said.

More information from the Columbia Fire Department will become available as the investigation continues, Sapp said. Anyone with any information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 573-875-TIPS.

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