Two separate suspicious fires broke out almost simultaneously at the downtown buildings of the Lacaze-Gardner School of Business yesterday afternoon, sending hundreds of students fleeing onto 14th Street.
The first fire, a minor one, started in a fifth-floor classroom at the Bond Building, 1400 New York Ave. NW, while a second more serious fire erupted on the unused top floor of the Lacaze Building, 710 14th St. NW, D.C. fire officials said.
Deputy D.C. Fire Chief Dennis Logan, who was at the scene, said the fires were considered "of a suspicious nature, because there were two fires at the same time in adjacent buildings." The cause of the fires has not yet been determined, fire officials said.
There were no injuries during either fire, although students were attending classes in both buildings when the blazes started.
After almost 80 fire-fighters put out the two-alarm fires, a cornice toppled from the 14th Street building, striking and sightly injuring a passerby in the ankle.
"I was outside (the 14th Street building) and I looked up and saw smoke and all this glass was falling on me," said student Amalia Piter."I went up to the fourth floor to find my cousin and all the kids were running, screaming 'Fire!' Plaster was falling all over me."
Piter was one of many students who gathered in front of the drug store across the street to exchange escape stores.
Lacaze-Gardner, which has used aggressive advertising to attract low-income, inner-city residents to its secretarial, typing, keypunch and business management courses, had announced on Wednesday that it will close it downtown Washington classrooms.
The Washington Post reported in yesterday's editions that both the U.S. Office of Education and the FBI are investigating allegations that Lacaze-Gardner has abused federal student financial aid programs by obtaining millions of federal dollars for tuition for students who do not complete their courses there.