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Arson Does $1-Million Damage to Three Schools in Escondido

Times Staff Writer

Arsonists set fire to three public schools in Escondido on Saturday night, causing more that $1 million in damage and taxing the Escondido Fire Department to its limit, police and fire officials said Sunday.

“We had our hell night last night,” said Capt. Richard Stuka of the Escondido Fire Department. “There were three fires, and we’re sure that the same parties were involved in all of them.”

Hardest hit was Escondido High School, 1535 N. Broadway, the first target of the arsonists, officials said. The blaze, reported about 9 p.m., caused an estimated $750,000 damage, Stuka said. “They burned down the drama stage and the cafeteria building,” he said. The buildings are in an area of the campus that is remote from the surrounding residential area and the fire apparently was raging for some time before someone at a movie theater across a highway noticed and called for help, he said.

While firefighters battled that blaze, the band apparently moved on to Orange Glen High School, 2200 Glenridge Road, where eight separate fires were set in two classrooms, Stuka said. That fire, reported at 10:49 p.m., caused about $250,000 in damage, destroying adjoining psychology and Spanish classrooms. Damage was so extensive to one of the rooms that the roof fell in, Stuka said.

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The final target of the group was Del Dios Middle School, 1400 West 9th Ave., where $30,000 in damage was done to a portable classroom in a blaze reported at 11:39 p.m.

“We were taxed. We had all our units committed,” Stuka said.

Firefighters from San Diego, San Marcos and Deer Springs were called in to help battle the blazes and the San Diego County Sheriff’s arson strike team was called in to investigate.

No suspects had been arrested, Stuka said Sunday, but investigators presume the fires were set by teen-agers.

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“I can’t imagine an adult doing this,” Stuka said. “I can’t imagine some adult saying, ‘Let’s go out and burn some schools.’ ”

Stuka said investigators were virtually certain that all three fires were set by the same people but declined to discuss the evidence or leads. Some type of accellerant, such as gasoline, was used to fuel all three fires, he said.

The school district’s insurance company has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the people who set the fires, Stuka said.

All three schools are closed today for spring break.


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