Auburn Placer High classroom fire cause still a mystery

Smoke, fire damage keeping students from returning
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Nearly two weeks after a fire damaged a Placer High School art classroom, investigators are not releasing a cause.

Auburn’s fire and police departments are both involved in a probe into why and how a fire broke out during a morning class, evacuating hundreds of students, and ultimately leading to a classroom being temporarily closed.

On Wednesday, as a Sacramento fire-damage restoration crew worked behind closed doors at the Agard Street classroom, Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi said that investigators had still not determined whether the fire could be described as suspicious.

“We’re not ruling anything out,” D’Ambrogi said.

The fire chief added that Auburn police were also involved in the investigation into a combustion source.

Auburn Police Department Sgt. Dale Hutchins also stated Wednesday that the investigation was continuing.

“We haven’t made a determination whether there was an accident or a criminal act,” Hutchins said.

While authorities continue to attempt to pinpoint the cause of the fire, art classes for students displaced by the fire are taking place in other classrooms in the same 1920s-era building.  Across the hall, student Jake Moore said he’s adjusted to the change in classrooms.

“In fact, I like it better,” Moore said. “This classroom’s a lot bigger.”

Toby Covich, Placer High’s visual and performing arts chairman, said work to restore the classroom was slowed after asbestos was found in one of the walls, but efforts were now proceeding on making the room fit for classes again.

“We’re probably two weeks out to utilize the main classroom,” Covich said.

The classroom closet holding art-related audio-visual materials sustained the most fire damage, but some VCR tapes and DVDs were salvaged, Covich said. With a PayPal account established to help the art department replace water- and fire-damaged materials, he said that teachers and students are thankful for the generosity shown by community members.

Kaija Perkins-Uno, the art teacher whose class is still without a permanent classroom, said that about $200 had been donated.

“People have been generous,” Perkins-Uno said. “It’s amazing to see the community step forward to help.”