Late-night Warren County school fire started at trash can filled with rags

“Spontaneous combustion” of finishing rags placed in a trash can resulted in a Thursday night fire at the Hampton Bennett Building in Franklin.

Rodney Roberts, the Franklin City Schools business manager, said in an email to Superintendent Michael Sander, he received a distress alarm call from the school district’s monitoring system at 10:13 p.m. He said he drove to the building as this was a rare occurrence. As he was checking the building, Roberts noticed flames on the northeast side of the building near the pre-school classrooms.

The Hampton Bennett Building on East Sixth Street houses the district’s central offices and early childhood education center. As Roberts dialed 911, Franklin firefighters arrived at 10:29 p.m. Thursday.

Franklin Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf said there was substantial smoke damage in the building and limited damage to some wiring, a classroom door and some flooring in front of the door. He said the fire was contained using a fire extinguisher. Westendorf said the fire was ruled accidental and did not have any damage cost estimates as of Friday morning.

Sander did not expect any damage estimates until early next week.

Roberts said he called in a maintenance employee to assist the fire department with room and building access as well as calling an information technology employee to check the district’s services since the fire was so close to the technology room. He said no problems were found there.

In addition, the district will need to have an asbestos remediation crew in as some of the ceilings damaged with smoke contain asbestos and will need to determine if any, or all will need to be abated.

The building was closed on Friday so that the building could be aired out and district custodial teams could begin clean-up. School officials will determine over the weekend if staff can return to work there on Monday and assess next steps.

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