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Boy, 17, arrested in school blaze

A 17-year-old boy has been arrested on a felony charge of arson for allegedly starting the fire that damaged 15 Sonora Elementary School classrooms.

Cal Fire concluded the cause of the fire was arson after completing its investigation last week, Sonora Police Chief Mark Stinson said today. 

The boy, who isn’t being named due to his age, was still being held in juvenile detention, Stinson said.

Investigators’ interviews of several people led to the boy’s arrest on Wednesday, Stinson said. 

The boy lives near the school, but no other details were being given due to the ongoing criminal investigation, said Stinson. 

“We’ll see if they charge him as an adult or juvenile,” Stinson said, with the legal procession now in the hands of the District Attorney. 

Details on the fire itself are also being withheld. School officials have previously said the fire started in a garbage can filled with debris outside a fifth-grade classroom window.

Arson is defined in the state penal code as when a person “willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property.”

Arson is a felony, with arson of an uninhabited structure carrying a penalty of up to six years in prison.

The fire took place about 9:45 p.m. Nov. 23, the Saturday before the week-long Thanksgiving break for the school.

It damaged buildings, D, E and F, classrooms for fourth- through eighth-graders. 

Building F, for fourth- and fifth-graders, was burned beyond salvage, according to Sonora School District Superintendent Leigh Shampain. 

Students were staying home today to give teachers a chance to prepare temporary classrooms on campus.

Classes will resume Tuesday.

District Attorney Mike Knowles could not be reached for comment.

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