UPDATE: City offers $10,000 for help finding school arsonist

By Nicholas Johnson | May 17, 2017
Courtesy of: Mukilteo Police Department Fiber optic cables inside this metal utility box outside Columbia Elementary School were burned when someone set fire to portable toilet Saturday night, May 14.

UPDATE (Friday, May 19)

The city of Mukilteo is offering $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever set fire to a portable toilet at Columbia Elementary School on May 14.

The Saturday night fire caused an estimated $100,000 in property damages after it burned fiber optic cables and spread to the eaves of a school building, causing smoke to fill the school’s gym and kitchen.

The Arson Alarm Foundation is providing the $10,000 award for information. That foundation works with communities to reduce the occurrence of arson fires, and to apprehend and convict arsonists.

The Snohomish County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Mukilteo Police Department are investigating the fire, which the Snohomish County Fire Investigator determined was arson.

Any person with information that could assist in the investigation is encouraged to contact 1-800-55-ARSON.

To contacted the police department, e-mail crimetips@mukilteowa.gov or call 425-263-8107 to speak directly to a detective. Every effort will be made to keep information and tips anonymous.

ORIGINAL (Wednesday, May 17)

Columbia Elementary students returned to school Tuesday, May 16, after damage caused in an arson fire Saturday night prompted the district to cancel classes Monday.

The fire, which started in or on a portable toilet positioned against an outside wall, caused property damages estimated to value more than $100,000, according to the Mukilteo School District.

Fiber optic cables inside a metal utility box near the portable toilet were burned, causing the school to lose phone and Internet service. Electrical power was also lost due to the fire.

The fire spread from the portable toilet to the eaves of the school building, ruining computer and electrical equipment and filling the kitchen and gym with heavy smoke.

District officials spent Monday, May 15, repairing the fiber optic cables and cleaning the school’s kitchen and gym.

Passersby along Harbour Pointe Boulevard spotted the fire and called 911 at 10:06 p.m. May 13. Mukilteo Fire Department crews arrived at the Harbour Pointe Boulevard campus at 10:13 p.m. Units from Snohomish County Fire District 1 and Everett and Lynnwood fire departments also responded, for a combined total of 28 fire personnel.

“The first arriving engine captain made a good decision to be very aggressive,” Mukilteo Assistant Chief Brian McMahan said, noting that the school does not have a sprinkler system. “I would say they stopped the school from burning by being that aggressive.”

McMahan said the fire would not have spread to the eaves of an overhang had the portable toilet not been so close to that overhang.

“If it had been away from the building 10 feet this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “Had it been against the gym wall, it would not have reached the eaves. It would have just charred the side of the cinder block wall.”

Crews struggled to ventilate the gym as heavy smoke became trapped up in the gym’s arched ceiling, McMahan said. Crews stayed on scene until 12:35 a.m. May 14 trying to ventilate the gym.

“We put fans in there to try to ventilate,” he said, noting that they used flashlights as the power had gone out. “We did that for a couple hours and we got a lot of the smoke out, but some smokiness will remain for a while.”

Aside from burn damage on the outside of the building, smoke damaged things inside, he said.

“I think the smoke damage was quite extensive,” he said. “Before they can cook again, everything has to be cleaned from top to bottom. The pennants and signs and everything else in there retained the smoke smell. The stage curtains are also stained by the smoke smell.”

McMahan said portable toilet fires are not uncommon. He said the department gets a few such calls each year, usually around the Fourth of July when people are lighting fireworks.

Portable toilet fires burn fast and hot, he said, because the plastic itself is fuel-based.

“Often times when we get calls of porta-potty fires, they go up quick and are done quick,” he said. Usually, by the time we get there, there is just a puddle of plastic on the ground. It makes a bit of a mess.”

The Snohomish County Fire Investigator determined the fire was arson. McMahan said juveniles who don’t realize how quickly a portable toilet can catch fire are typically to blame.

The Mukilteo Police Department is investigating the arson. Anyone with any information is asked to contact the department by e-mail at crimetips@mukilteowa.gov, or call 425-263-8107 to speak directly to a detective. As detectives follow up on leads, every effort will be made to keep contacts anonymous.

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