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Fire officials say oily rags caused fire at Preble High School in Green Bay

GREEN BAY, WI (WTAQ) - Fire investigators have determined that spontaneous combustion was the cause of last Friday's morning fire that heavily damaged Green Bay Preble High School.

Green Bay Area Public School District employees, who were cleaning up from the resurfacing of the gym floor, improperly disposed of rags used to clean up a chemical.

"They placed rags that were used to clean up some of the product that was used to resurface the floor, that product actually spontaneously combusted with those cotton rags and started the plastic garbage can that was placed next to the bleachers on fire," says Green Bay Metro Fire Lt. Nick Craig. "We were able to conclude that through scene examination and video footage from a camera that was placed in the gymnasium."

Craig reiterated that there was no intruder, and that the motion detectors were initially set off by the fires sometime around 1:20 a.m. Friday.

Officials were adamant that the fire was not set on purpose, but stopped short of calling it an accidental fire.

"I can't say...I mean if you're saying was it done on purpose, I can guarantee that it wasn't done on purpose," says Mike Stangel, director of facilities for the Green Bay Area Public School District.

"Was something done wrong, were they improperly disposed of? Yes they were improperly disposed of," says Craig. "Did they do it on purpose? Obviously not."

Preble High School principal Natasha Rowell confirmed earlier reports that the damage to the school building is worse than they first thought, and that has led to the reality that the building will not be ready for the start of classes on September 2.

"The district staff is already looking at different scenarios to make up the lost school and instructional time," said Rowell. "At this point, we're just throwing some ideas around and nothing is really formalized at this time."

Rowell would only go on to say that they are considering different ways of providing instructional material to students.

A crew of more than 100 people is cleaning up the damage. “We don’t know the totality of what we have to do,” said J Murphy with Paul Davis National. Murphy says the entire school will have to be cleaned because smoke and soot travelled throughout the building.“It’s really going to be a lot of odor control and a lot of just physical wiping of surfaces,” Murphy said.

Murphy says crews will begin working throughout the night starting Wednesday evening. That could push the total number of workers on this cleanup project to over 400.

In the meantime, Danz Avenue between the school and the football field will be closed so the restoration company can use the area.

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