- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

D.C. firefighters yesterday responded to two separate fires at Anacostia High School in Southeast, bringing to 13 the total of suspect fires at the school since May 1.

The first fire yesterday was started just before noon in a boy’s restroom on the first floor of the school, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Alan Etter said.

He said investigators interviewed a male student at the school in connection with the fire.

The second fire occurred in a first-floor home economics classroom about 2 p.m., Mr. Etter said. The only person in the classroom at the time was a teacher, who saw one or two boys run through the hall and toss a piece of burning debris into a trash can in the classroom, he said. That ignited papers in the trash can, which then set a bulletin board on fire.

No one was injured in either incident.

A deliberately set two-alarm blaze at the school Feb. 24 led to the hospitalization of a firefighter, who suffered second-degree burns to the right side of his face. No arrests have been made in that case.

The school was fined $2,000 after that fire because two exit doors had been padlocked. Firefighters had to cut bolts on the two doors to get to burning gym mats in the building.

Mr. Etter said there have been no subsequent fire code violations at the school.

Firefighters have responded to Anacostia High School nine times this month, Mr. Etter said.

He said fire investigators have been called to four other fires that were put out quickly by faculty or staff members. He described the series of fires as “nuisance fires,” which were lit in trash cans, lockers or bookbags, but caused little damage.

“As you get to the end of the school year, a lot of kids might think doing something like this to get out of school early is funny,” Mr. Etter said. “There is nothing funny about this. It has the potential for serious injury and damage.”

There’s been one arrest in the series of fires. A male student was arrested Friday for starting a fire on May 15.

Mr. Etter said the fire investigators are working with the Metropolitan Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to solve the cases.

“There is no information that would lead us to believe that these fires are connected in any way,” he said.

LeRoy McDonald, whose son LeRoy III is an 11th-grader at Anacostia, said there needs to be more security at the school to prevent fires.

Those charged with keeping the children safe are somewhat inexperienced, he said, and cannot keep an eye on all the empty hallways and rooms, which give the people starting the fires a chance to be free of authority.

Insufficient number of cameras also prevents administrators from keeping children out of vacant rooms or areas, he said, adding that those starting the fires are playing “Russian roulette” with the children’s lives.

Mr. McDonald said his son is a bit frightened by the fires and asks him what he and other parents in the PTA are doing to ensure they stop. But, Mr. McDonald said, the incidents don’t stop his son from going to school.

“This is not some arsonist trying to set fires; this is kids trying to get out of school,” Mr. McDonald said.

D.C. school officials did not return calls for comment last night.

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