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Police say arson charges possible in St. Joe's washroom fire

'It’s more than just an inconvenience. It’s extremely serious and it has to be treated that way,' Barrie police official says of Wednesday's incident at local high school
File photo.

Barrie police say they returned to St. Joseph's Catholic High School yesterday to follow up on Wednesday’s fire and charges are not off the table as the investigation continues.

Fire crews responded to a "small" blaze in one of the washrooms shortly before 9 a.m. on April 10. It was extinguished by school staff, but created a large amount of smoke, necessitating ventilation of the Cundles Road East building. No injuries were reported.

“As a result of that visit, an investigation has been commenced to determine how the fire started and to determine who could be responsible,” Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon told BarrieToday this morning.

"It’s more than just an inconvenience. It’s extremely serious and it has to be treated that way," he added.

Police say they are working in conjunction with school officials and Barrie Fire and Emergency Service for the ongoing investigation at the north-end high school.

Leon said charges that could be forthcoming include arson if the fire is deemed to have been intentionally set, "which is a very serious crime," he added.

"Not only are we dealing with a fire and an evacuation of a school, somebody could have gotten injured as a result of that," said Leon. "And if the fire had gotten out of control, the damage it could have caused to the school, which, I understand, is extensive enough that it’s going to be closed until at least Monday."

Parents are expected to find out Sunday if things are "back on track again," he added. 

Pauline Stevenson, manager of communications for the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, has previously said there was significant clean-up required in areas immediately adjacent to the washroom. Clean-up crews also need to address any impacts related to smoke that spread through the HVAC system.

The school board's priority is to ensure everything is “cleaned, remediated and air quality is tested," Stevenson said.

On Wednesday, school principal George Luck praised everyone for their "calm response" and for following directions during the evacuation. The decision was then made to dismiss students for the rest of the day.

Later in the evening, in a notice to the school community, Luck told families that the school had been deemed unsafe to enter until remediation work was complete.

The school board has retained a third-party contractor to assess, repair and remediate any damage caused by the fire. Air-quality testing also needs to be completed.

When staff and students can return to classes in the building remains unknown. School officials have said they expect to send out an email Sunday evening with an update over the weekend.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Barrie police at 705-725-7025 or through their website by clicking here

Kevin Lamb

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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