10-year-old charged in Vernon fire

By Anthony Cormier News Herald Writer 747-5089 / [email protected]

Investigators arrested a 10-year-old Washington County boy Friday afternoon and charged him with starting a fire inside the Vernon High School gymnasium this week.

Authorities did not release the juvenile’s name. They said he was taken to the Washington County juvenile detention center and faces a felony count of criminal mischief with damage in excess of $1,000.

He was released to his parents shortly after he was booked. The State Fire Marshal’s Office deemed the fire "suspicious" Thursday afternoon after examining the gym with the K-9 Accelerant Team as students returned to classes.

The blaze started around 6:45 p.m. Wednesday. Firefighters from Vernon, Chipley and Wausau responded and quickly contained the flames. Estimates put damage between $50,000 and $75,000.

After eliminating all accidental causes, Welch said authorities began treating the case as arson. They sent debris to a lab in Tallahassee on Thursday but did not have to wait for the results. Aided by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Fire Marshal Investigator Chris Welch spoke with people in the neighborhood near the school. "Students and people who live in that neighborhood" said they saw a young boy in the area, Welch said.

"He was seen near the gymnasium around the time of the fire," Welch said.

Investigators found and interviewed the 10-year-old Friday, when Welch said the boy admitted starting a smaller fire inside the gymnasium. Investigators don’t believe he meant to bring down the whole gym, and he may have gotten scared when the fire got out of control.

They chose criminal mischief, a third-degree felony, as the charge rather than charging the boy with arson, a first-degree felony.

"He seems to be all right," Welch said. "He admitted to starting a fire, but I don’t think he meant to do as much damage as he did. That’s basically why there was no arson charge."