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Fire damages, closes Front Royal school for a day

A No School sign is placed along the curbing outside E.Wilson Morrison Elementary School on Crescent Street in Front Royal Thursday. A fire Wednesday night forced school officials to close school for today. Rich Cooley/Daily

Tracy Bowen, a custodian for Warren County Middle School, drags a wet/dry vacuum outside the rear of E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School Thursday afternoon. A Wednesday night fire forced the school to close today. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Joe Beck

Authorities said a one-alarm fire that closed the E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School at 40 Crescent St. in Front Royal on Thursday appeared to have been set.

Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron said in a news release that two juvenile male suspects have been arrested and charged with four felonies and three misdemeanors under juvenile petitions. They are being held in a juvenile detention facility, McEathron said.

Deputies arriving at the school had determined the fire was set, McEathron said earlier in the day.

Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Pamela M. McInnis said someone lighted a Barney the Dinosaur stuffed animal in the physical education room on the school's second floor around 9 p.m. Wednesday. McInnis said she was told of the fire around 9:15 p.m., and firefighters from Front Royal, Linden, Shenandoah Shores and North Warren had extinguished it by the time she arrived shortly afterward.

"It was purposely set from what I understand," McInnis said. "It wasn't faulty equipment or anything like that."

McInnis said fire and law enforcement investigators remained on the scene well into the early morning hours, but she had not spoken further with them as of 9 a.m. Thursday.

McInnis said she expected the school to be ready to reopen for regular classes on Friday after work crews finish cleaning up smoke and water damage.

"I called the maintenance director, and he said, 'yes, we'll be ready for school tomorrow,"" she said.

She said water caused most of the damage, and the effects of the smoke were "minimal."

"The bottom line is at this point, there is little fire damage," McInnis said.

She said the wooden auditorium stage received the most damage from water falling through the ceiling from the second floor.

McInnis said school officials used a telephone caller system to alert parents Wednesday night and early Thursday morning that school had been called off. She said school system officials sent school buses on their normal routes Thursday to alert any students and parents standing at bus stops that school had been called off.

McEathron said in an interview Thursday that the two juvenile defendants were in their mid-teens and not students at the school.

McEathron said no other suspects are being sought.

"We were able to interview the individuals and close the case," McEathron said of the juveniles who came under investigation.

The Sheriff's Office is asking anyone with information to contact Investigator Allen Smoot at 540-635-7100.

Patrick Farris, executive director of the Warren Heritage Society, said the school was built in 1936 with additions in 1946 and 1952, It stands adjacent to the site where a fire destroyed the local high school in the early 1940s Farris said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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