Willard Middle School on Alert after Trash Can Fire

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 23, 2008 - 03:15:00 PM

Middle School is investigating three small fires that started in a couple of trash cans in the school’s restrooms and an open garbage area in the garden during school hours Wednesday, district officials said. 

District spokesperson Mark Coplan said that no one was injured in the incident and that school authorities had started taking precautions by sending students to the restroom in groups. There was no damage to school property, Coplan said. 

“They have started to control access to the bathroom and are monitoring student safety,” he said. “No one has any clue yet as to what happened.” 

Calls to Willard Middle School Principal Robert Ithurburn were not returned. 

Coplan said the school did not have an idea yet about what could have started the fire since the matter was still under investigation.  

“I am assuming somebody lit them,” said Superintendent Bill Huyett when asked for comment about the incident. “The [ school] is restricting use of the bathrooms right now.” 

Berkeley Fire Department Chief Gil Dong said that the station had received a fire alarm activation at 2:22 p.m. on Wednesday, following which a fire engine and truck had been dispatched immediately. 

“I am waiting to get back more information,” he said, adding that the seriousness of a trash can fire depends on its impact. 

“If it burns down the building then it’s definitely serious, if it stays in the trash can then it’s a nuisance,” he said. “Somebody’s running around threatening students’ lives. I haven’t heard from the school yet but we need to get the word out that this is dangerous.” 

Coplan said that he had not come across trash can fires at middle schools in Berkeley during the last six years he had served as the district’s public information officer. 

“I have seen a couple at the high school though,” he said. In 2000, Berkeley High School reported a string of arson fires, at least one of which started in a trash can.