Fire damages Oconto High School, classes canceled until Monday

Fire trucks stage at Oconto High School April 16, 2014, after a report of smoke in a hallway. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)
Fire trucks stage at Oconto High School April 16, 2014, after a report of smoke in a hallway. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

OCONTO - Classes at Oconto High School are canceled for the rest of the week after a fire damaged part of the building Wednesday morning.

No one was hurt, but investigators are working to determine if the fire was intentionally started.

Three-hundred students and 42 staff members got out of the school quickly.

"There was just tons of smoke. It was like pitch black. It looked like the lights went out," said Nicholas Neumann, Oconto High School sophomore.

"It was like black smoke coming above everyone's heads, so I was like, this is the real deal," said Camille Sowle, Oconto High School senior.

Fire crews put out the flames within four minutes. Three departments and at least 20 firefighters responded to the scene around 8:55 a.m.

"We know at this time that the fire started in the bathroom. Started looking at some security tapes and some other things and determine our investigation from there," said Jack Mlinarik, the chief of the Oconto Fire Department.

District superintendent Sara Croney doesn't know if it was intentional.

"Our understanding is that it was done by a student," said Croney.

She says the school was prepared for the emergency situation.

"Great deal of respect for our students and staff of how they handled everything perfectly, perfectly," said Croney.

Students were in the hallway switching classes when the fire alarm went off and smoke was seen. They say they quickly found the nearest exit.

"A bunch of teachers started telling everyone to get out of the school," said Neumann.

"Well the fire alarm, we all just automatically always go outside no matter what. Just find the closest exit," added Sowle.

Students were evacuated to the middle school and then released for the rest of the day. They'll be at home for the rest of the week.

School was already canceled Friday because of Good Friday. The district says students will not have to make up the class time lost because of the fire.

Croney isn't sure how many classrooms were damaged or how much repairs could cost.

"I heard from our building and ground supervisor, that because of so much smoke damage, it's going to be a long haul to get everything cleaned up," she said.

According to the district's Facebook page, the high school students will resume classes at the middle school on Monday.

The Oconto Fire and Police Departments are handling the investigation.