Three boys arrested for arson in Woodburn High School fire

Three boys arrested for arson in Woodburn High School fire »Play Video

WOODBURN, Ore. - Three 15-year-old boys were arrested Friday and accused of intentionally setting the four-alarm morning fire that tore through Woodburn High School, Woodburn police said Friday night.

Police say the boys are students at the high school.

Through their investigation, Sgt. Nick Wilson, with the Woodburn Police Department, said police were able to track down the boys. They were brought to the police department and interviewed. Wilson said they were cooperative.

Police aren't releasing details of their investigation at this time, but they said they were able to determine the fire was started on purpose.

The boys face charges of first degree arson, reckless burning and reckless endangering. The case goes to the district attorney early next week.

The boys were taken to the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center.

Students and staff evacuated the school and police said nobody was hurt.

Woodburn Fire officials believe the fire started in the wood shop.

The four-alarm fire burned part of the high school, mostly damaging the central portion of the school.

Fire officials said the wood shop suffered the most damage. Its roof collapsed and partially burned away.

“Inside the wood shop/metal shop there are additional fuels,” said Woodburn Fire District Lt. Darin Unrein. “More than what you would find in a traditional classroom setting.”

About 1,400 students attend the school, which is located about 30 miles south of Portland. The initial alarm was sounded at about 8:45 a.m., according to a witness.

Fire officials said that the fire was contained but still had some hot spots on Friday afternoon.

Among the first people to see the fire was the school’s head custodian Mike Grubb. He was alerted to it after the fire alarm sounded and rushed to try to battle the blaze.

“We actually discovered that we had flames in the back of a classroom in a storage area,” he said. “I grabbed the fire extinguisher and went in and tried to knock down the initial flames, but those little fire extinguishers that we have are good for small fires. This was already putting out a lot of flames, so we emptied an extinguisher on it, and, by that point, the smoke was getting bad enough that we just needed to get out.”

A huge column of smoke could be seen from miles away as the fire burned, witnesses said.

Neighbor Barry Stenlund, whose has two grandchildren at the school, said he saw lots of that black smoke billowing from the school.

He said he received text messages from his grandkids that they were safe. He also said he used to be an athletic director at the school.

Students first congregated on the football field and were then taken by bus to Silverton Health Center, formerly known as Wellsprings.

One student, Lizzie, said students were "freaking out" with a lot of people "talking and screaming" but overall the evacuation was "really organized."

"It's very sad," she said of fire hitting her school.

Another Woodburn student, Lupe, said she was in class when the alarm went off and the school was evacuated. She said the fire was "nerve-wracking" and her softball game today will be canceled along with many other activities since students are not being allowed back into the school.

Many students had to leave personal belongings behind during the evacuation.

Patricia Ramirez, Operations and HR Director for the Woodburn School District, said the evacuation went well overall.

"The initial reaction from the administration was prompt. They initially thought it was a fire drill at first," she said. "It took about five minutes for them to find out it wasn't, so they evacuated the kids in an orderly manner."

"The kids were amazing and so was the staff," Ramirez added. Sgt. Wilson echoed Ramirez, saying preparations by the school administration, students and fire department helped clear the school quickly.

Ramirez said robocalls were sent out to the parents that all of the students were safe and evacuated. School administrators sent about half of the students to the nearby Wellspring Health Center, and the others were taken to the football field.

After the evacuation, Ramirez said another robocall went out to update parents where they could find the students.

But parent Julia Cook, who has a daughter at the school, said she was upset she was not informed of the fire until 10 a.m. "That's so frustrating. I'm kind of freaking out because that's her school," she said.

However, Cook said she got a text message from her daughter that she was all right.

Jeff Davis, who said he works with an engineering firm that is remodeling part of the school, said it appeared the fire was in a portion of the school near the metal and woodworking shops. He said the metal shop was not being remodeled at this time but was under consideration for future work.

The Woodburn School District has canceled all classes at the high school next week. So far, they have not determined when classes will resume. 

School officials say parents and students can check the district's website for updates. They say students won't be allowed to enter the building to retrieve their personal belongings until sometime next week.