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A fire in a boys restroom at Monticello's Washington Elementary School forced the evacuation of about 350 elementary and 125 high school students from the building at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. Monticello Fire and Rescue personnel were able to put out the fire with hand-held extinguishers, but not before it damaged the ceiling of the bathroom, a light fixture, and caused some possible smoke damage in a room across the hall.
“When we got here, there was soot all over the floor,” said Fire Chief Rick Dubson. “When we opened the door, smoke just rolled out and across the hallway.”
There were no injuries, and Monticello Police are investigating.
Windows were opened and fans brought in to draw smoke out of the school. The 350 elementary school students who had been taken to a high school gym were able to return to their classrooms by 1:30 p.m., but high schoolers who use six classrooms in an hallway near the bathroom were not allowed to use those rooms the remainder of the school day.
The high school and Washington schools are on the same campus at Monticello.
Dubson said the fire apparently started in the toilet paper dispenser of the one of the bathroom stalls, burnt the plastic enclosure and a light fixture, and spread soot throughout the room. Soot also spread to some of the duct work, and there was also some water damage in the bathroom.
He also stated his believe that “this was not accidental.”
School officials sent out a phone message to parents through its School Messenger service.
A fire alarm alerted staff to the fire.
“We evacuated all kids outside, then when we found there was a fire, moved them to Moore Gym at the high school,” said Superintendent Vic Zimmerman. He said the restroom is in the south hallway of Washington Elementary, but is used primarily by high school students who use the classrooms nearby.
Zimmerman said Thursday afternoon that smoke and soot apparently did not filter into the rooms, meaning they would be available for use Friday. ServePro of Champaign was also on hand to clean up the bathroom area.
See more coverage in next week's Journal-Republican