Arson Blamed as School Fire in Stanton Destroys Classroom, Damages 2 Others

Times Staff Writer

One classroom was destroyed and two others were heavily damaged by an arson fire at the Esther L. Walter elementary school in Stanton early Sunday morning, authorities said.

"We were lucky it wasn't worse," said Earl D. Butler, assistant superintendent for the Magnolia Elementary School District. "It was contained to one wing of the school. If it had spread to other wings, it would have been much worse."

The school, located in the 10800 block of Rustic Lane, was scheduled to open as usual today, despite the fire. Butler said Walter school officials worked diligently Sunday afternoon to make arrangements to prepare extra classrooms in other sections of the school.

"It might be a little inconvenient, but we'll make it," Butler said.

Total damage was estimated at $195,000, most of that structural damage. No one was in the building when the fire broke out and there were no injuries reported, fire officials said.

The Orange County Fire Department, which had the 4:50 a.m. fire under control in less than half an hour, had blocked off the wing to protect the rest of the school.

The classroom where the fire broke out was the room of teacher Joyce Rudberge.

Fire officials reported that Rudberge lost nearly 20 years' worth of teaching materials she had collected. A second classroom was heavily damaged, and a third classroom sustained serious smoke damage. Officials have fenced off that part of the school for children's safety. Butler could not say how soon any of those classrooms might be back in operation.

County fire officials said no arrests have been made and that the exact cause of the fire, which was purposely set, remains under investigation.

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