December 19, 2014

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7-year-old set Oberlin school fire

OBERLIN — The fire in a bathroom at Eastwood Elementary School that caused $25,000 to $30,000 in damage earlier this month was caused by a 7-year-old boy playing with a lighter, Oberlin Fire Chief Dennis Kirin said.

Toilet paper and several plastic items burned Nov. 8, causing the evacuation of the school. The fire damaged paint and several ceiling tiles in the bathroom. Most of the costs related to the fire involved cleanup of smoke damage.

“Fortunately, all teachers and students followed the school safety plan for prompt evacuation and notification of the fire department,” Kirin said. “No one was injured during the incident.”

No charges will be filed, and the youngster will not be referred to juvenile authorities, Kirin said. He said school officials will arrange for counseling to help the boy understand the magnitude of what he did.

Now that the Fire Department has concluded its investigation, schools Superintendent Geoffrey Andrews said the work of the district is just beginning.

“You want everyone to be reassured this won’t happen again and it’s safe to be in that school,” Andrews said. “We know who did it and know how it was done, but as far as the motivation and context — that’s what we are working on. Was it curiosity, anger, something happening at school or something happening at home?”

Both Kirin and Andrews declined to say where the boy had gotten the lighter.

The fire occurred at the end of Fire Safety Week at the school, which serves prekindergarten through second grade. The program stresses the right things and the wrong things to do in case of a fire.

Children are frequently drawn to experiment with fire and need to know the dangers involved, Kirin said.

“In 2003 we had a fire (in Oberlin) that killed two children,” he said. “They died because one of the children was playing with a lighter and some bedding caught on fire.”

The children’s father was awoken by another child and he was able to get two children out of the house to the neighbors, but he couldn’t get back into the house to rescue an infant and another child because of the smoke and flames, Kirin said.

Roughly two out of every three fires caused by children involve matches and lighters, according to Kirin.

The Fire Department recommends that parents store matchers and lighters out of the children’s reach and sight and that only lighters with child-resistant features should be used. However, child-resistant does not mean child-proof.

If you suspect your child is intentionally setting fires or is unduly fascinated with fire, the department offers a free youth counseling program.

Contact the department at (440) 774-3211 or visit www.oberlin-fire.com/safety/juvenile.html.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.