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Fire official: Electrical malfunction in closet caused College Hill fire

Wichita Firefighters work to put out a fire inside a classroom at College Hill Elementary. Staff members escaped unharmed. (August 12, 2013)
Wichita Firefighters work to put out a fire inside a classroom at College Hill Elementary. Staff members escaped unharmed. (August 12, 2013) The Wichita Eagle

A fire that damaged much of College Hill Elementary School last week was caused by an electrical malfunction in or near a small appliance in a closet storage room, fire officials confirmed Thursday.

Wichita fire Capt. Stuart Bevis said the fire, which caused an estimated $400,000 damage to the school and its contents, originated with either a small refrigerator or microwave oven in a closet shared by two second-floor classrooms.

“We can’t tell which device failed, or if it was the electrical cord between the devices and the service there, but the fire came from that area,” Bevis said.

Most of the fire damage was concentrated on two classrooms, but flames spread to structural spaces in that part of the building and there was “smoke throughout the facility,” he said.

Wendy Johnson, spokeswoman for the Wichita district, said in an e-mail Thursday that “insurance investigators are still completing their work” at College Hill, at First and Clifton. She did not say how extensive the damage is or whether common areas such as the library were damaged.

“We anticipate having (an) agenda item with additional information in this regard at Monday’s (school board) meeting,” Johnson said in the e-mail. “If that occurs, we will have additional information to share.”

College Hill students started school Monday at the former Bryant Elementary School in west Wichita.

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