A smoldering fire between two walls, ignited by a welding device, resulted in a 45-minute evacuation of Rim Country Middle School students Monday afternoon.
When the alarm was first received by the Payson Fire Department at about 2 p.m., the fire appeared to be more serious than it actually was, due to smoke that was billowing from the eaves of the seventh-grade building, Fire Marshal Jack Babb said.
The makeshift kindling for the fire had been building up for some time, he said.
Apparently, boys have for years been unscrewing two metal access panels to a plumbing chase in order to peer from the boys' restroom into the girls' restroom. During that time, "tightly packed paper towels" had been discarded between the two walls, Babb said.
Monday, a custodian was dispatched to permanently weld the metal panels to the walls and it was sparks or slag from the welder that ignited the debris within the wall.
RCMS staff members, alerted by the resulting heat and smoke, attempted to douse the fire with a dry chemical extinguisher.
When that failed, Babb said, the fire department was summoned and, after a larger access hole was cut into the wall, the fire was quickly extinguished.
In the meantime, students and faculty had been evacuated to the far end of the playing field north of the school.
Babb described damage to the building as being minimal.