Officials Deem Fire 'Suspicious'

Officials Deem Fire 'Suspicious'

Storage Container at Paul VI High School burns.

The City of Fairfax Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating what it says is a "suspicious" fire at Paul VI High School.

On May 15, at 5:26 p.m., firefighters from the City of Fairfax and Fairfax County responded to a call of smoke coming from a storage container on the grounds of Paul VI. A basketball tournament was going on at the school, and during a break one of the spectators came out and saw the smoke.

Firefighters from Rescue Engine 433, based at Station 33 on Lee Highway, were the first on the scene and were able to get the fire under control within five minutes. "It raged intensely for several minutes," said Ed Clark, spokesperson for the City of Fairfax Fire Department.

Clark said that the fire had mostly burned itself out by the time that the firefighters arrived. About 10-12 firefighters were on the scene, Clark said.

INITIALLY, FIREFIGHTERS were concerned that the trailer might contain hazardous materials, but that turned out not to be the case, Clark said, adding that the damage is estimated at $2,000, which is primarily the cost of the trailer itself. No one was injured.

The storage shed was placed in the location when the school was undergoing renovations, said Philip Robey, principal of Paul VI. During the renovations, the school had kept sports equipment in it, but most of that has been removed since the renovations finished in October of last year, Robey said. "There wasn’t any damage to any other school facilities," Robey said.

The Fire Marshal has said the fire is suspicious, Clark said, partly because the cause is difficult to determine. "There’s no obvious cause of ignition," Clark said, "but these trailers don’t just spontaneously combust."

Clark noted that a similar incident had occurred at Paul VI last year, which he said contributes to the theory that the fire may have been arson. Robey said that this fire does seem similar to the previous fire.

Clark stressed, however, that he does not think a larger danger exists to the community. "I don’t think it likely that there’s a serial arsonist," he said.

Arsons in the City of Fairfax are relatively rare, Clark said, but most are committed by males and juveniles. Nationwide, arsons cause more than 500 deaths and $1.9 billion in property losses, Clark said. Most, however go unsolved since much of the evidence is destroyed in the resulting fire, Clark said.

Clark added that the investigation is ongoing and that the department has not ruled out anyone. "At this point, we’re not closing any doors," he said.

According to Clark, the container is visible from Lee Highway and is near the school’s football field. Although the incident had eyewitnesses, the fire department is seeking information from any other members of the public who may have seen it. Anyone with information is asked to call Assistant Fire Marshal Gary Lewis at 703-385-7818.

— Ari Cetron