In the community, Schools

Harper School fire probe focuses on flaming Gator

The fire that destroyed the Harper School District’s maintenance building was accidental but the specific cause couldn’t be established, state officials have reported.

The fire on May 20 – the day before Harper’s graduation ceremony – did about $200,000 in damage, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Ron Talbot, Harper school superintendent, said the district intends to rebuild the structure with the cost covered by insurance. He said the building, which also housed the district’s welding classes, might be expanded but at the district’s office.

He said district officials are awaiting others to finish their own investigation of the fire. That wil govern when construction can start.

“We are waiting to see what timeline we are on determined by the insurance and contractors,” Talbot said in an email.

The fire marshal’s account of the fire said that Tyler Kiester, the school district’s maintenance director, used a John Deere Gator to change water lines on the football field on that Saturday morning. He returned the vehicle to the maintenance shop.

“He had to attend a birthday party and went home to shower,” the report said.

Video from the scene showed Kiester park the Gator at 10:40 a.m. and he returned to the building at 11:13 a.m. after getting a report of smoke coming from the maintenance building.

“He opened up the roll-up door and saw flames from the bottom of the Gator,” the report said.
“He said flames were under it and fire seemed to be dripping down.”

The report said Kiester and Talbot used a fire extinguisher and garden hose to put out the fire.

Kiester said that “it appeared the gas tank ruptured and then fire was all over. He said they got out of the building.”

Deputy Fire Marshal Casey Kump said during his investigation he found lithium-ion batteries in the Gator for a drill and a weed trimmer.

“I was unable to determine whether the fire was caused by due to a malfunction with the Gator itself or if there may have been an issue” with the battery packs, he reported.

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