A pile of charred wooden pallets stands among puddles of water in front of Kenai Central High School on Wednesday morning. Students arriving at school found about half of the pallets they had collected for homecoming this weekend burned by someone the night before.
Photo by Patrice Kohl
Although Kenai Central High School’s homecoming doesn’t begin until Friday, someone has fired up events three days early.
At 2:25 a.m. on Wednesday, the Kenai Fire Department responded to a report that a pile of pallets collected for this weekend’s homecoming bonfire had been ignited.
KCHS students had planned on burning the woodpile in their homecoming bonfire Friday night, but Kenai firefighters arriving on the scene Wednesday morning reported the pile was feeding 20-foot flames.
Firefighters reported that about half the pile was involved in the fire when they arrived, and they smelled gasoline as they were extinguishing the flames.
“It appears that somebody trespassed on school grounds and started this fire,” said Kenai Assistant Chief James Baisden. “And it’s under investigation right now by the Kenai police and fire department to see who set the fire.”
Because the pallets were piled in a highly visible location in front of the high school and near the Kenai Spur Highway, it likely would be difficult to get far in igniting the pile before somebody noticed and reported it, Baisden said.
“Whoever set this fire probably used quite a bit of accelerant to get it going fairly quickly,” he said. “We have had incidence with this before, but I don’t know if anyone has ever gotten this far.”
As they were leaving school for lunch Wednesday, Kenai students Elissa White and Danielle Nath said they believed Soldotna High School was behind the fire, and that they found the prank distasteful.
“We have a rivalry, but I don’t think it should go that far,” White said.
White and Nath said they believe Kenai Central students would like to retaliate, but guessed they won’t.
“I think we have more respect for them than that,” White said.
A few Kenai students shook their heads as they filtered into school Wednesday, but no one seemed too surprised, said Principal Alan Fields.
“Hopefully this is it, and we don’t have students that feel like they have to retaliate and go and sabotage other bonfires,” he said.
Bullets were once suspected of having been thrown into the fire, but Fields said that occurred before he came to the school more than five years ago. In the five years since he has been there, he said he could recall no attempts to sabotage the school’s homecoming fire.
He said although the school is competitive and there is a strong rivalry between Kenai Central and Soldotna High School, that most of it is played out on the field.
“Most of it is good-hearted school spirit stuff, but this would not fit into that category, and not be what we want to see happen,” Fields said.
Although the fire burned at least half of the pallets collected for the weekend, quite a few still remain, and Fields said he expects students will repile the remaining ones and collect more to add to the top.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s not going to dampen our activities,” he said. “We’re going to carry on ... and we’ll have a bonfire.”
In the meantime, Kenai police and firefighters are regarding the incident as no laughing matter.
“We’ll continue our investigation with the fire department, to find out who did it,” Baisden said. “This type of incident puts our guys at risk, to have to go over there and put this fire out, especially when there’s gasoline involved.”
As scheduled, the Kenai will hold its homecoming parade and bonfire Friday and its football game and dance Saturday. Soldotna High School also will hold its homecoming events this weekend.
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