EDISON - Investigators looking into the blaze that destroyed an Edison elementary school have concluded that it began with a single cigarette discarded by a facilities manager.
Jerome Higgins, who was working at James Monroe Elementary School that night, has said that he first wrapped the cigarette in a paper towel and ran it under the faucet before tossing it in the trash. Officials say that wasn't enough to extinguish the butt.
That trash can, located in the boiler room, soon caught fire. Fire Chief Brian Latham says that a heat detector inside the room set off an alarm alerting his department and crews were at the building three minutes later. By then, three rooms were on fire.
Chief Latham says part of the reason it spread so quickly is because the boiler room door was open. "If it was closed it would've contained the fire to that room," he says. "It might have even choked the fire out."
The oxygen in the halls fed the flames. The building had no sprinklers and the fire continued to spread.
"The walls of the school are covered in paper," Latham says. "There are books, wooden desks, a lot of fire-load. And once it got above the drop ceiling and into the roof it spread through the entire building."
The roof collapsed in several sections, and the entire building was quickly lost.