- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The four recent fires at Prince George’s County public high schools were intentionally set and appear to be the work of inexperienced arsonists, investigators said yesterday.

“There was nothing elaborate used to set the fires,” said Mark Brady, spokesman for Prince George’s County Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Four fires have been set since late last week in three county high schools.

Two fires were set Friday in Charles Herbert Flowers High School in the 1000 block of Ardwick Ardmore Road in Springdale.

A third fire was set Sunday at Potomac High School in the 5200 block of Boydell Avenue in Oxon Hill. And another fire was set Tuesday at Gwynn Park High School in the 13000 block of Brandywine Road in Brandywine.

“We’re interviewing staff, faculty, students and associates,” Mr. Brady said. School employees were also told to watch for fires or signs of arson, he said.

Prince George’s County school officials could not be reached yesterday for comment. Authorities have not said whether they suspect students started the fires.

However, investigators arrested a teenage student May 13 at Charles Herbert Flowers High School and charged him with first-degree arson for a fire in a locker earlier this year. However, he has not been tied to the four most recent fires, Mr. Brady said.

The fires Friday at Flowers high school started at 11:30 p.m. One was in a temporary classroom. The other was in a gym storeroom and was extinguished by an automatic sprinkler. The estimated damage was $51,000.

Automatic alarms alerted firefighters to the blaze Sunday at about 9:45 p.m. at Potomac High School. The firefighters needed about 20 minutes to extinguish the blaze in a first-floor computer classroom. The damage was estimated at $1,000.

The fire Tuesday at Gwynn Park High School started during school hours, and roughly 1,400 students were evacuated. Firefighters needed about 15 minutes to extinguish the blaze in a computer laboratory. The damage was estimated at $2,000.

At least nine fires were set in late March in D.C. public high schools, including six over a period of seven days at Eastern High School on East Capitol Street NE.

No serious injuries were reported, but a school employee was treated for smoke inhalation and a student was treated at the scene.

Eastern Principal Norman Smith said the fires resulted in such changes as security personnel locking and unlocking bathrooms and patrols of the building and trouble spots.

“It has got to stop,” Alan Etter, spokesman for the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said at the time.

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