SILVER CITY - The fire that destroyed the town's 137-year-old schoolhouse on Wednesday was caused by workers installing air conditioners, investigators confirmed Thursday.
Lyon County Public Works employees used soldering irons to connect copper pipes to new air conditioners. The fire was apparently started either by their torches or the hot pipes, authorities said.
The workers finished their project and left, unaware of the fire.
"When we arrived, there was nobody there," said Central Lyon County Fire District chief John Gillenwater. "(When they left) there was (no fire) visible. They had taken some precautionary measures."
No one in the public works department was available for comment Thursday.
The investigation into the cause of the fire was conducted by the Nevada State Fire Marshal's Office and the Central Lyon County Fire District.
"It's basically just using the scientific method," said fire-prevention officer Amy Solaro at the scene Thursday.
"We're just trying to figure out what happened. You rule out electrical, you rule out propane, you rule out foul play."
She and another investigator were picking through debris, tossing aside blackened bricks from the foundation. Nearby was the door to the crawl space where workers soldered the pipes. The two, brand-new air-conditioning units, now covered with ash, still had their yellow Energy Guide efficiency comparison labels.
The fire was reported by parents arriving to pick up their children from a summer lunch program at the old school, which had been used as a community center since the early 1990s.
Witnesses said they saw smoke coming from where the floor met the west wall.
They called 911 and evacuated the children at about 1:30 p.m. Inside the walls, the fire climbed to the attic then burned through the roof. The building collapsed at about 2:30 p.m.
Thirty-two firefighters from Lyon and Storey counties fought the blaze, along with another eight from the Bureau of Land Management. They had planned to hold their annual firefighters ball at the old school on July 31.
There were a few sprains among crews fighting the blaze, but nothing that required medical attention, Gillenwater said.
The cost of fighting the fire was estimated at $8,000 to $10,000, Gillenwater said. Departments are not seeking restitution because the fire was not criminal or malicious, he said.
Two employees of Edwards Fence in Wadsworth put cyclone fencing around the burned ruins of the school Thursday.
Contact Karl Horeis at email@example.com or 881-1219.