Police: Smoking in bathroom started Oconto fire

A look at the damage to the men’s bathroom at Oconto High School on Friday, April 18, 2014. (Courtesy: Paul Davis National)
A look at the damage to the men’s bathroom at Oconto High School on Friday, April 18, 2014. (Courtesy: Paul Davis National)

OCONTO - A high school fire initially believed suspicious turns out to not have been started on purpose.

“I am extremely relieved that it was unintentional,” said School Superintendent Sara Croney.

Now Oconto schools are focusing on trying to make sure this kind of damage doesn't happen again.

Police say a student smoking in the boys' bathroom started the fire that caused five million dollars’ worth of damage.

Related Stories:

» More Stories

A hand-rolled cigarette smoked in an Oconto High school bathroom stall—That’s how officials say a 16-year-old unintentionally started the fire.

“It was a toilet paper roll that looks like what caused the main source of heat and once that heated up it caused the plastic partition to melt and fall over and that gave us a pretty good idea of where our origin was,” said Oconto Fire Chief Jack Mlnarik.

Police and fire investigators say they've handed their report over to Oconto County Human Services.

Though it's been ruled unintentional, the boy will likely face discipline through human services and through the school.

“That's not something I'm willing to be discussing in student matters,” said Croney.

Croney won't say if he will be suspended or expelled. She says she wants the community to move forward.

“I am sorry for all of it. I feel bad for him. I feel bad for the parents. I feel bad for the school. The damage is extensive but then immediately after that my thought immediately goes to everyone is safe,” said Croney.

As the cleanup process continues as scheduled at the high school, the Superintendent says a committee will meet this weekend to discuss a possible referendum.

While the insurance pays for the five million dollars damage, it would not cover an extensive upgrade for all school buildings that the district now wants to do.

The district wants new fire alarms, smoke detectors, and sprinkler systems.

“What is to code when the building was built and they grandfather all that in and they don't require you to upgrade. However, we are going to. We are going to go well beyond what is the current age of the building,” said Croney.

Croney hopes with improvements to fire safety, damage as severe as this will be less likely to happen again.

If approved at Monday night's board meeting, the referendum would be on the August 12 ballot.

It is still unclear how much money taxpayers would be asked for.