Fire Strikes Playground at South Row School
Area parents and children remain in shock at the aftermath of the blaze while Fire Department officials have begun an investigation into its cause.
A large portion of playground equipment at South Row Elementary School has been transformed into a twisted hulk of charred metal and plastic following a fire late Tuesday afternoon.
While children quickly returned to other portions of the playground and the adjacent basketball courts a few hundred feet away Tuesday, the burnt playground equipment lies unusable, with two large slides now gone and other portions burnt beyond recognition.
Chelmsford Fire Department officials have begun the process of an investigation into the origins of the blaze.
Chelmsford Assistant Fire Chief Gary Ryan has not yet made any determination into the cause of the fire, or whether it can be ruled as arson, although he was certain of the fire's emotional impact looking at equipment that his children once played on.
“(It would be) pretty brazen, given the fact that it happened during the day while children were in the area,” said Ryan. “All we can ask now is for people to remain vigilant, but this is truly unfortunate.”
Ryan also noted that this was the worst fire safety incident at a school since port-a-potties were set on fire at the Harrington School and trouble with a boiler last winter at the Parker Middle School.
With the playground equipment reaching the end of its usability, a committee within the South Row Parent Teacher Organization fundraised for new equipment earlier in the summer.
Like Ryan, the committee looked on with shock after the fire was extinguished, with the fundraising efforts taking a back seat for the time being.
“I’m devastated and the kids feel devastated; it’s just an awful smell,” said PTO Playground Committee Chairwoman Danielle Evans. “It will hopefully bring greater knowledge about the playground, but whatever knowledge was gained, this was far too much of a price to be paid for it.”
According to 10-year-old Carol Fish of Janet Road, at first it appeared that the school itself was on fire.
She ran toward the school to investigate, and upon coming within sight of the fire, she ran back home in fear. Eventually, she asked her grandmother if she could return to the school and see if everything was OK.
“There was a lot of smoke; it almost seemed like a house was on fire looking at it from far away,” said Fish.
Fish, who graduated from South Row earlier in the year, also said that she and her friends had seen cigarette butts and lighters in the area as recently as April.
Anyone with information on the fire is urged to immediately contact the Fire Department, the Police Department and the Chelmsford Public School Department.