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Cause of Cooper fire remains undetermined

Investigators from insurance agencies and project manager Kraus-Anderson construction survey fire damage to the roof of the new Cooper Elementary School Wednesday. A fire broke out in the gym storage room Sunday and hot spots were rekindled in the roof Monday. Superior School District photo

The Superior Fire Department released a rough timeline of the fires that caused more than $1.5 million in damage to the new Cooper Elementary School, under construction beside the existing school building at 1807 Missouri Ave.

Arson is not suspected, but the cause of the fire will remain undetermined, according to Superior Fire Chief Steve Panger.

Fire inspectors suspect the original fire Sunday night started in the gymnasium storage area, burned through a one-inch flexible rubber natural gas line and went out.

Gas flowing from the boiler room reached the heat from the original fire, firefighters reported, causing an explosion, a process that was repeated multiple times.

Fire crews shut off the gas to the building, stopping the flow and knocked down the fire. The original fire, however, burned very hot. That, the fire department reported, started the roof on fire nine hours later.

Once the roof fire was extinguished, the site was examined by the Superior fire and police department as well as the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation.

An evacuation plan for students and staff at Cooper School was set up but never used.

The final cost of the damage will be higher than $1.5 million, according to the school district, although that number is not yet known. District administrators expect to have a better estimate on the cost of the damages when insurance companies involved have finished their investigations.

The district did report the fire damage was contained to a small area, but there was soot damage throughout the entire building.

The district is focusing on the clean-up process. Only authorized personnel are allowed in the building. No information was available on what impact this will have on the timeline for opening the new school.

The new school project was approved by Superior voters in 2016 as part of a $92.5 million building referendum that also included renovation of Superior High School. The school broke ground on April 12, 2017, and had been expected to open this fall.