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Arson fire destroys maintenance barn in Niagara Falls (N.Y.) district

Feb. 26, 2020
District maintenance worker faces arson charges after fire causes $5 million in damage.

An employee of the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) School District has been charged with setting a fire Tuesday night that did about $5 million in damage to the district's maintenance garage.

The Buffalo News reports that Rickey Ponds, 22, was arraigned in court Wednesday on charges of third-degree arson, third-degree burglary and second-degree criminal mischief.

Niagara Falls School Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie says Ponds was told Tuesday morning that he was being transferred from a temporary laborer position, which involved groundskeeping work, to a full-time job as a cleaner. That would have reduced his pay by about $2,000 a year.

"He purchased a lighter at Walmart. He was supposed to finish the week (as a laborer), so he had access to the building after 8 o'clock," the superintendent says. "He took cans of diesel gasoline that we store in the barn for lawn mowers and snowblowers and he sprayed them and lit them."

Laurrie says Ponds turned himself in to police about Tuesday night. Ponds was hired by the district in December 2017.

The fire destroyed numerous vehicles, including snowplows in the face of a predicted winter storm.

No one was hurt in the fire, but the building and its contents are a total loss, Laurrie says.

The alarm sounded around 9 p.m. Tuesday. It took about an hour to bring the fire under control, Fire Chief Joseph Pedulla says.

The maintenance barn is behind Niagara Falls High School near the field house.

"As sad as this event is for our district, we are grateful that no one was injured in the fire. The Niagara Falls Police and Fire Departments were amazing," Laurrie says. Trucks and equipment can be replaced. No one was hurt, making this a very somber event, but one we will soon recover from – we are Niagara Falls City School District strong."

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