Suspect's family: hand sanitizer and lighter set Woodburn HS fire

Suspect's family: hand sanitizer and lighter set Woodburn HS fire »Play Video
Debris leftover from the fire at Woodburn High School Friday. (Patrick Preston/KATU News)

WOODBURN, Ore. – Hand sanitizer and a lighter was all it supposedly took to burn part of Woodburn High School to the ground, according to one of the suspect’s family members and court documents.

Three 15-year-old boys are accused of starting the four-alarm fire that tore through the high school on Friday. Miguel Garcia, Jose Campuzano-Zepeda and Diego Rodriguez-Alvarez are all being tried as adults.

KATU News has decided to name the boys because they are being tried as adults.

They appeared in court on Monday afternoon. As they faced the judge, all three wore handcuffs and the standard uniform of gray sweatpants and sweatshirts that are worn while in juvenile detention.

The boys are being charged with one count of arson and six counts of reckless endangering.

Their bail was set at $50,000. Two of the teens were released on bail on Monday afternoon. The third was set to be released on Monday afternoon as well.

Woodburn police said they were able to determine that the fire was started on purpose. However, Campuzano-Zepeda’s brother, Pedro, said it was just an accident.

"It was like a tragedy because they were just basically playing around, and they didn't really mean to do that," he said. "It wasn't intentional to burn down the whole school. I guess they just wanted to do a trick they saw on YouTube."

There are dozens of videos on YouTube of kids setting fire to hand sanitizer. It burns because it contains alcohol, which is flammable. According to Campuzano-Zepeda's family, Jose attempted to put out the blaze using paper towels and cardboard, which only stoked the fire further.

While they agree that what Campuzano-Zepeda did was wrong, they believe that the Woodburn School District and a teacher share some responsibility.

"Why didn't it have sprinklers in every room or, at least, a fire extinguisher," Pedro said. "And supposedly the teacher that was supposed to be with them wasn't paying attention to them."

Woodburn Police Department probable cause affidavits released Monday afternoon for each of the suspects provided a more detailed account of what happened and said that several students had seen students playing with hand sanitizer and a lighter in a classroom.

Police said Garcia told them that after he had started a small fire and quickly put it out Rodriguez-Alvarez poured an eight-inch diameter puddle of sanitizer onto a desk top and lit it with a lighter. After Campuzano-Zepeda tried to put out the fire with paper towels, Garcia then said the two “flung” the burning towels into a closet where there were cardboard boxes. The boxes then burst into flames. Campuzano-Zepeda tried to put the fire out by stomping on it, leaving a burn mark on his right shoe.

According to the court documents, Rodriguez-Alvarez questioned why the teacher did not see what he was doing, and when asked whether he thought the fire was the teacher's fault, he said she wasn't doing her job.

The fire burned part of the high school, mostly damaging the central portion of the school. Woodburn Fire officials believe the blaze started in the wood shop, which had the most damage. Its roof collapsed and partially burned away.

About 1,400 students attend the school, which is located about 30 miles south of Portland. Students and staff safely evacuated the school, and police said nobody was hurt.

The Woodburn School District has canceled all classes at the high school this week. According to information on their website, high school seniors will resume classes on May 21. District officials plan to make an announcement regarding the other grades on May 23.

School officials say parents and students can check the district's website for updates.

If you would like to help Woodburn High School in the aftermath of the four-alarm fire, click this link.