- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Students mourning the loss of the Phoenix II alternative school in Gaithersburg, Md., said yesterday they believe a current or former classmate may have set the fire that gutted the building Sunday night.
"I think someone probably did it because they were mad — they dont realize the teachers are here to help them," said Shannon, a former student at the school for teen-agers battling alcohol and drug abuse.
Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Capt. Jim Resnick said arson generally is not a random crime and "the logical place to look is to someone associated with the school."
The irony of someone using fire to destroy a school named after a bird that, according to myth, consumed itself by fire then rose from the ashes was clear to students struggling with the loss of a place they associate with getting their lives back.
"We have to rise from the fire," said student Tina. "And whoever set this fire, weve learned we have to pray for them. I owe my life to this school."
Montgomery County fire investigators said a petroleum-based accelerant was used to start the fire, probably at points outside and at the back of the building.
Capt. Resnick said many of the 18 tanker trucks and 70 firefighters and paramedics who responded to the blaze arrived about eight minutes after they were dispatched at 9:21 p.m.
Five teachers taught about 30 students in grades nine through 12 in the small building, located next to Judith A. Resnick Elementary School on Hadley Farms Drive.
"Its a close-knit group," said Montgomery County Public Schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison.
Students spent part of yesterday together walking the fenced-off perimeter of their school, which fire reduced to roofless walls and blistered, blackened beams.
Today, they will be back in class in extra rooms at the Longview School, also in Gaithersburg, Ms. Harrison said.
Despite severe damage to the building — estimated at $1 million — surprising amounts of science equipment, clothing from lockers and student records were saved, she said.
Building-trades students constructed much of the building, which had been home to the Phoenix II school since 1988.
Montgomery County fire investigators, assisted by some members of a special arson task force that includes the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, spent yesterday evening canvassing the neighborhood asking for clues.
Capt. Resnick said the fire setter may have used nearby woods as cover to approach and retreat from the scene.
No one was injured, but it took about 40 minutes to bring the fire under control.
Anyone with information is asked to call fire investigators at 240/777-2255, or CrimeSolvers at 800/673-2777.


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