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Fire near Skyridge School dubbed “suspicious”

Investigating officials say it was most likely intentionally set
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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A fire that broke out behind Skyridge Elementary School in Auburn has been determined to be "suspicious" by investigating fire and police officials.

The fire started Tuesday evening. Several parents were watching soccer practice at Skyridge when they started smelling smoke.

Around a quarter acre of school property was burned after the fire started. A Skyridge classroom was threatened by the fire, but there was no damage to the building.

Sgt. Dale Hutchins with the Auburn Police Department, which is leading the investigation, said on Wednesday the "initial investigation indicates a high probability that the fire was intentionally set." The specific cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Craig McArdle, duty officer with the Auburn Fire Department, was at Skyridge on Wednesday surveying the scene of the fire. The Auburn and Newcastle fire departments responded to the fire on Tuesday along with Cal Fire.

"It is what one would consider suspicious," McArdle said. "It wasn't lightning and there is no connecting road, so it wasn't someone driving by who flicked a cigarette."

Skyridge Principal Jen Lewandowski said she arrived at her school immediately after hearing about the fire on Tuesday, but couldn't give any more details.

McArdle said some of the people in the neighborhood who have property near where the fire started were interviewed about what they saw that night.

Diane Wilson is visiting her children and grandchildren that live on Burlin Way near Skyridge. She said her grandson said he saw someone walking on the trail behind his house right before the fire started on Tuesday.

"It was very exciting around here, but the firemen were on top of it," Wilson said.

Parents who were watching their children practice soccer on Tuesday ran down to the fire after noticing it and began trying to put it out with a garden hose that came from the school's garden.

Scott Bergenstock, of Auburn, was watching his grandson practice when he ran down to the fire and started trying to put it out.

"You watch these guys fighting fires and you always wonder what it's like," Bergenstock said. "There was one time when the flames exploded and I got a mouth full of smoke. It kind of knocked you down a little bit."

Anyone with information on Tuesday night's fire should call the Auburn Police Department at (530) 823-4237.