The Juneau Police Department is seeking an arsonist after a small fire halted classes at Thunder Mountain High School on Tuesday morning. “The fire marshal and JPD are investigating the fire as arson,” said Assistant Fire Chief Ed Quinto on Monday afternoon. Fire Marshal Dan Jager confirmed that JPD’s school resource officers are investigating who might have set a toilet paper dispenser on fire in a boys’ bathroom. It might be only a toilet paper dispenser, but “it’s kind of a significant thing,” Jager said.
The fire was hot enough to trigger the school’s sprinkler system, which enthusiastically extinguished the flames and overwhelmed the bathroom’s floor drains. Building-wide fire alarms went off, triggering the evacuation. “It sounds like the sprinklers did their job very effectively,” said Juneau School District Chief of Staff Kristen Bartlett. The sprinklers quenched the fire but also flooded a nearby hallway and sent water into a few classrooms. Quinto estimates the water and fire damage at $2,500.
The fire started shortly before 10 a.m., and staff and students returned to the high school by 10:30, Bartlett said. The fire took place in the purple wing — the section of the school extending toward the football stadium — and classes scheduled for that wing were expected to resume in the afternoon.
“The custodians and the Thunder Mountain faculty and staff and the maintenance department were excellent at getting things cleaned up,” Bartlett said. Parents of students at Thunder Mountain High School and nearby Riverbend Elementary School received two calls from the school district: The first call alerted them to the fire; the second told them the fire had been extinguished.
Bartlett said she cannot recall any similar arsons at Juneau high schools. Quinto said he remembers a fire in the girls’ bathroom in the same wing a few years ago. According to Empire records, a small fire scorched Thunder Mountain’s turf field in 2011. A more serious arson burned the turf at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park in 2012.
Quinto added that while Thunder Mountain has cameras covering its entrances and common areas, there are no cameras in the hallway outside the bathroom.