Fire early Friday burned through the children’s play area at Hermiston’s Funland Park.
Hermiston police Chief Jason Edmiston reported city police and firefighters from Umatilla County Fire District 1 at 2:43 a.m. responded to a report of a fire at the park, 1245 N.W. Seventh St., Hermiston.
“Law enforcement arrived shortly before fire and reported the majority of the structure appeared to be fully engulfed,” according to the chief.
Firefighters arrived and extinguished the blaze. Personnel remained on scene until daybreak when investigators began looking for the cause of the fire, and as of 9:30 a.m. continued to investigate and to block the parking lot and play structure from public access. Fire marshal Scott Goff and police Lt. Randy Studebaker were on scene.
“Until information is discovered to tell us otherwise, we are treating this as a criminal investigation,” Edmiston stated, “meaning any/all evidence known to us will be collected to assist.” And when more information becomes available, he continued, “it will be disseminated.”
The large wooden play structure was originally built in 1996, but was rebuilt after a fire that took place July 28, 2001 at 2:45 a.m. There were no arrests in that case. The city's insurance company ended up paying out $345,000 in that case and the city and community members added to that amount before hundreds of volunteers rebuilt a larger version of the playground over six days in March 2002.
Larry Fetter, parks and recreation director, said more than half of the structure is a complete loss. He said the parks department is consulting with their insurance provider and putting together a plan. In the short term they are placing a construction fence around the structure to preserve evidence and public safety.
He said the structure will likely be off-limits all summer as the parks and recreation committee designs a new park and figures out how to pay for it.
"I'm very interested in replacing it with materials that are non-combustible," he said. "It's just too heartbreaking to go through it again."
He said the new playground will also be designed with fewer places for people to hide and with a better surveillance camera system.
The spray park part of Butte Park will open soon, he said, and the parking lot will be available after the construction fence is placed. Fetter said the Tiki Hut was not damaged and is already open for business, and the Butte Challenge will go on as planned this weekend.
Hermiston mayor David Drotzmann tweeted a video from the scene of the fire, calling it one of his saddest days as mayor.
"One thing's for sure," he said. "Hermiston's a great community. We've rebuilt this before. We will rebuild it again. You can't slow down our spirit. You can't squelch our pride. We're a great community, we care about our kids. This park is important to us and we will once again rebuild it from the ashes."
Donations to rebuild the park are being accepted at city hall.