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Fox Elementary report says cause of blaze is 'undetermined'

William Fox Elementary behind a fence adorned with red-paper hearts
The Richmond Fire Department late Friday released a report detailing its findings around the February fire at William Fox Elementary School in The Fan. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The cause of a February fire that partially destroyed William Fox Elementary School has been deemed “undetermined,” according to a 31-page report released to VPM News by The Richmond Fire Department late Friday.

“Without the benefit of additional evidence or information, the specific cause of the fire will remain undetermined,” the report stated.

But the Fox report also asserted that “analysis of the evidence and information revealed was sufficient to support that the fire was the result of an unintentional act. During this investigation, no evidence or information was discovered that would support any deliberate act which would have caused this fire.”  

It’s unclear what evidence was enough to support the “unintentional act” finding; all but one line of a “points considered” section was redacted. Several other sections of the report also were redacted.

Another page of the report states that the field investigation and examination “provided sufficient evidence or information which eliminated some of the causes considered. The causes that could not be eliminated were accidental.”

The report does note, however, that the area of fire origin was an attic located on the second floor — which contained a classroom and auditorium — within the school building. The report also noted that the fire was the result of an ignition source interacting with a fuel source, although the fuel source remains undetermined.

However, fire investigators were not able to inspect the origin area due to safety concerns. The report noted they’ll only be able to inspect that area after shoring up the building, after asbestos is removed and following a building engineer determining the area is safe for investigators to enter. A timeline for those steps wasn’t noted in the report.

One page of the report includes notes from an interview with Fox principal Daniela Jacobs, when she told investigators that there was an infestation of mice and that “mice had previously chewed through the wires in the attic area.”

Jacobs also noted that she’d been experiencing issues with the alarm panel for several months, which previously has been reported by CBS6.

The report also noted that an August 2021 fire inspection found several code violations, including the presence of combustible materials stored in equipment rooms.

Other findings include:

  • The lack of a fire suppression system “caused or contributed to the propagation of the fire.”
  • The lack of an internal fire extinguishment system “caused or contributed to the propagation of the fire” during its initial stage. The absence of the system also “contributed to the consumption of, and degradation of the combustible/ignitable materials in the area.”
  • No weather-related events contributed to the spread of the fire.
  • No building defects were observed that would have substantially contributed to the fire’s spread.
  • No cigarettes, cigarette butts, or sources of open flames — like candles — were identified.
Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.