Evarts Fire Chief David McGill said the blaze began at the rear of the school's cafeteria at a loading dock and was apparently ignited by use of "plastic bread crates" and cardboard boxes. Entry was not gained into the school, he said, but two large metal doors were damaged in the fire.
"There was significant smoke damage, and smoke throughout the school," McGill said. He also said there was minimal water damage in extinguishing the fire.
The Evarts Police Department was the first to arrive at the scene after at least two phone calls were placed around 8 p.m. to the Harlan Police Department, which handles dispatching calls for Evarts, and 911, which goes directly to the Kentucky State Police.
McGill said police have had some tips as to who may have set the fire and were conducting a round of interviews on Tuesday. He also said police are reviewing surveillance from a security camera outside the cafeteria where the fire began.
A damage estimate for the school was not available as of Tuesday afternoon, said Mike Howard, assistant superintendent of finance for Harlan County Schools. Howard was present, along with Superintendent Timothy Saylor, at the scene of the incident Monday.
Howard said the school district is working on the damage estimate and that school officials began to clean the school Tuesday afternoon. He said an assessment could not begin before that because the Kentucky Fire Marshal's Office had not released the building to the school district.
"We will have some man-hours and probably the cost of the metal doors in the kitchen. We're not looking at major damage. ... We definitely dodged a bullet," Howard said.
As of last November, the county school system was already out close to $25,000 following a string of break-ins at several different schools, including Evarts High School.
Saylor credited local agencies' quick response to Monday's fire for preventing further damage to the school. He said he is "hopeful the perpetrators will be caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
"We're certainly thankful there were no injuries and the damage was not any more extensive than it was. First and foremost, our priority is to get the building ready for school, check all wiring and do all that is necessary to have a clean and safe building for our students," Saylor said.
Evarts Police Chief Lupe Blas encourages anyone with information regarding Monday's fire to call the police department at 837-8183 or the Harlan County Sheriff's Department, which is also investigating the incident, at 573-1313.
"Sometimes, all it takes is one little clue to bust a case," Blas said.
The Evarts police and fire departments were assisted at the scene of Monday's fire by the Harlan County Sheriff's Department, Kentucky State Police and the Yocum Creek and Lower Clover Fork fire departments.
Evarts High School remained closed today, while other schools throughout the district were scheduled to reopen after being closed for three days due to inclement weather and illness.