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Fire allegedly set by boy destroys school playground equipment

July 28, 2018

FREMONT — A 12-year-old Fremont boy was cited on suspicion of third-degree arson after a Wednesday night fire at Bell Field Elementary School.

No one was injured in the blaze, which destroyed the school’s playground equipment. A school official estimates the damage at $30,000 and doubts new equipment will be in place when children return to classes Aug. 13.

The Fremont Fire Department was called to the scene at 9:12 p.m., said Erik Peters, firefighter and paramedic.

Firefighters had the blaze under control in five minutes and applied foam to keep the fire from reigniting, he said.

The equipment and about a 20-foot perimeter of rubber and wood mulch sustained damage.

“It melted all the plastic coating off the equipment,” Peters said. “It melted the aluminum poles and collapsed quite a bit of the playground equipment.

“The whole thing’s shot.”

Lt. Ed Watts of the Fremont Police Department said the boy admitted to setting the fire and no one else was involved.

“It’s not clear if he intended to burn the playground equipment or if he just started a fire that got out of control,” Watts said.

Kevin Eairleywine, executive director of human resources and elementary operations for Fremont Public Schools, said the district has contacted its insurance company, and community residents already have asked if they can do anything to help.

Children also have expressed a desire to pitch in. One student talked about putting up a lemonade stand to raise money to help replace the equipment, he said.

The playground equipment included a climbing wall, platforms and a large walkway area.

Many children have played on Bell Field equipment throughout the years. One photograph sent to the Fremont Tribune shows children in front of the equipment in 2005. Another shows those same kids just before they graduated in 2015.

Eairleywine noted the importance of the equipment to children in the area.

“It’s a focal point, not just for the school, but for the neighborhood — that’s a local playground for the neighborhood kids,” Eairleywine said. “We’re going to work with the community and get that back up as soon as we can.”

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