- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

Anacostia High School officials yesterday said they suspect three fires this week and a couple of others in the past few months were set as pranks and are a cause for concern.

Interim Principal Lamar Williams said the administration is taking steps to ensure that teachers and staff are more vigilant in checking students’ pockets for lighters or matches, and on the alert for students with other devices that could be used to start fires.

“This happens every spring, not just here — the only thing is I can’t remember it happening this many times” Mr. Williams said.

“I think it’s a prank-type thing that a certain segment of the student population does because they don’t want to get their education. I sure hope that it is nothing more.”

A small fire in a locker forced students to evacuate the school Monday afternoon, hours after two cars were burned in a parking lot that morning at the school at 1601 16th St. SE. On Tuesday there was a fire in a stairwell where a pair of gym shorts were burning, Mr. Williams said. No one was hurt in the fires.

Mr. Williams said students will be subjected to more fire drills than the monthly one required by law so they know how to respond if a blaze is not as easily extinguished as those in the past couple of months.

The administration is not planning to hire additional security to monitor the premises, but if fires continue to be set, more guards may be called upon, he said.

Investigators have labeled the fires suspicious and are interviewing students who may have been involved or know something about the fires, said D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter.

The school system was fined $2,000 when firefighters found exit doors padlocked after responding to a Feb. 24 fire. There was another fire at the school on March 13.

D.C. public schools administrators put Principal Mildred Musgrove on administrative leave after the February incident.

Mr. Etter said no safety violations have been found after that incident and that the school system is cooperating with the fire regulations.

There is no indication as to why the fires this week, in which nobody was hurt, were set, Mr. Etter said.

As the school year winds down, he said, some students are looking for a way to get out of classes.

“I wouldn’t purport to guess what’s on someone’s mind,” Mr. Etter said, adding that whether a prank or not, the fires must be stopped because someone eventually will be harmed.

Mr. Williams said most students resent the fires being set, and some tell him and teachers they will let them know if they get word of who’s responsible for the incidents.

“When we’re walking through the hall, we’ll have some kids say, ‘If I get word of what’s going on, I’ll let you know,’” he said.

Darlene Allen, president of the Anacostia Parent Teacher Association, said some parents are concerned about the safety of their children because of the fires, but she, too, believes the students responsible were playing pranks or trying to get some time out of the classroom.

“I believe that they’re pranks,” she said. “They’re usually in the afternoon, after lunchtime.”

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