OCONTO, Wis. (WFRV) Oconto investigators say they know how a fire started in Oconto High School earlier this month that caused millions of dollars in damage. According to police, the fire was accidental, caused by a 16-year-old student who was smoking in the bathroom.
A fire inside a boy's bathroom at Oconto High School April 16 left the building filled with soot, hundreds of students displaced and police searching for the cause.
Thursday investigators announced - what they believe happened.
"We don't believe it was intentional at all," said Oconto Police Chief Dan Ault. "We believe it was completely accidental as a result of smoking in the bathroom."
Police say early on they identified a 16-year-old boy who admitted going to the bathroom that morning to smoke a home- rolled cigarette in a stall, 10 to 15 minutes before the fire was discovered.
Based on surveillance footage and additional interviews police determined no one entered the bathroom after he'd left.
"Shortly after smoke was detected and the fire alarm pulled," said Ault.
Evidence that fire investigators found leads them to believe the cigarette dropped an ember.
"We were able to determine it was a toilet paper roll that was the main source of heat," said Oconto Fire Chief Jack Mlnarik.
The ember ignited the toilet paper - melting a plastic panel - filling the building with black smoke.
And while police call the fire accidental, it did cause $5 million in damage.
The case has now been referred to Oconto County Human Services.