Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fire destroys playground equipment at Takoma Park school

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A fire that officials believe was deliberately set on the playground of Sligo Adventist School in Takoma Park Friday night resulted in more than $40,000 in damage to equipment.

A crew from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service was dispatched 11:45 p.m. to the fire on the playground behind the school at 8300 Carroll Ave., said Capt. Oscar Garcia, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. A cigarette lighter was found on the scene, he said. No one was injured.

There have been more than a dozen playground fires in the county in the past year, Garcia said, including a fire on Stonegate Elementary School’s playground in Silver Spring Monday afternoon that resulted in about $3,000 in damage to equipment.

By the time Sligo Adventist School Principal Larry Rich arrived at the school, the playground was virtually ‘‘burned to the ground,” Rich said. Garcia said the dispatcher’s report of the incident described the playground as ‘‘fully engulfed.”

Lt. Joel Shackett, the investigator on the scene from the county’s fire marshal office, said the incident was still under investigation. There are no suspects or witnesses.

Erwin Mack, vice-chairman of the school board, said fire officials were alerted to the blaze by a neighbor of the playground. He said the fire was exacerbated by the flammable rubber base material on the playground. The fire burned for about half an hour, he said.

Rich said while the total cost of damages was not official until the school’s insurance agent provided a quote, the school was preparing for an estimate between $40,000 to $50,000 based on money spent purchasing the equipment. Garcia said the fire and rescue service estimated damages at approximately $40,000.

Rich said school officials were drafting a letter to send to the business community and members of Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church for financial help to rebuild the structure.

‘‘Ironically, we were in the process of raising money for additional playground equipment at that site,” Mack said.

Call the county’s arson tip line at 240-777-2263. Callers can remain anonymous.