Custodian Jerome Higgins, charged with causing the Saturday night fire at Edison's James Monroe Elementary School, by tossing a lit cigarette into a trash can, says he is "devastated."

Jerome Higgins (NBC 4 New York)

The 48-year-old was charged Monday by the Middlesex Prosecutor's Office with a disorderly persons offense; smoking is prohibited on school grounds. The charges are what the law allows, acting MIddlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Cary tells CBS New York, because there was no intent to set the school on fire.

"It was shocking to me, knowing that the person I put in charge to keep the building safe would do something that careless, with disastrous results," O'Malley told a meeting of Monroe School parents at Edison High School on Monday night. Higgins has been put on paid administrative lead by Edison school superintendent Richard O'Malley.

In an interview after the charges were filed, Higgins called the fire "clearly an accident."

Earlier, he had described his initial reaction to the Saturday night fire alarm during an interview at his East Brunswick home with NBC 4 New York, saying: "I thought it was a basic trip of the alarm and I would come and reset it." Instead, he said, he found the school building "engulfed" in flames.

Witnesses told CBS New York Higgins was among the onlookers outside the school on Saturday night as firefighters fought the fast-moving blaze.

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