Two small fires in girls' restrooms at Howard High School that were apparently set forced the evacuation and early dismissal of almost 1,500 students and teachers yesterday afternoon.
No one was injured.
Classes will be held as usual today.
The first fire was discovered at 1:12 p.m. as heavy black smoke poured out of the second-floor girls' restroom on the east side of the Ellicott City school, said Lt. Michael T. Baker, a spokesman for the Howard County Fire and Rescue Services.
After firefighters put out that fire, they searched the building and discovered a second small fire in the first-floor girls' bathroom directly beneath the site of the first. The second fire had almost gone out, Lieutenant Baker said.
Both fires were begun on toilets inside bathroom stalls. Damage to the two toilets was estimated at $100, and structural damage, primarily from smoke on the second floor, was about $5,000, Lieutenant Baker said.
The state fire marshal's office will investigate the cause of the fires, which were classified as "suspicious." "Toilets don't usually catch on fire by themselves," Lieutenant Baker said.
The apparent cause of both fires was toilet paper that had been ignited on the toilet seats, according to a statement from the county school system. Lieutenant Baker refused to confirm that explanation, but said it is the most common way that school bathroom fires are started.
The evacuation forced students and teachers to huddle outside for more than 30 minutes in a cold, steady drizzle. Many had fled the building without coats.
"I'm pretty cold, and I don't have anything with me," said 14-year-old freshman Abby Rascoe as she shivered in the rain clad only a T-shirt and shorts for physical education class. "I don't even have any keys to get into my house."
An assistant principal at the school, speaking with the assistance of a police car loudspeaker, dismissed the students for the day at 1:45 p.m. The school day normally ends at 2 p.m.
Students were told they could re-enter the school after 5 p.m. yesterday to retrieve their belongings.
Evening events at the school, including a 5 p.m. boys' basketball game, were to be held, and classes were scheduled to resume today, according to a statement from the school.