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Student-smoking causes $5-million school fire

OCONTO, Wis (WSAU-Wheeler News)  Police said smoking in the boys' room is what caused last week's fire at Oconto High School that caused $5-million in damage. A 16-year-old boy has been referred to juvenile authorities as a person-of-interest in the April 16th blaze.

Police Chief Dan Ault said it appeared to be an accident. He said the boy admitted soon after the fire that he only wanted to smoke, and the chief believes there was no other intent. The boy told officers he left a class early, went to a restroom, and smoked a home-rolled cigarette in a stall.

Oconto Fire Chief Jack Mlnarik said an ember from the cigarette was tossed into a toilet paper dispenser -- where it smoldered and then caught fire ten-to-15 minutes later. Surveillance video did not show the entrance to the bathroom at the time, so Ault said investigators relied on interviews of numerous students and teachers to narrow the list of possible suspects. The chief said it was fairly certain that nobody went into the stall after the smoker did.

Oconto High School classes resumed last Monday at the middle school building. That's expected to continue for at least two more weeks.