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Arson suspected at Presidential Park as swings set on fire

Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio • Updated Sep 27, 2017 at 9:00 PM

ASHTABULA (TNS) — Someone set the swing set and rubber mulch on fire at Presidential Park Monday night and the Ashtabula Fire Department is asking the public's help to find the people responsible.

Firefighters were called to the park, at West 58th and Madison Avenue, at about 7:30 p.m., according to the firefighter's report.

When firefighters arrived, they found the swing set fully engulfed in flames, according to the report. The swings are part of the park's newly donated playground equipment

The blaze has been ruled an arson, said Capt. Stephen Chase, of the Ashtabula Fire Prevention Bureau and Fire Department.

As of Tuesday, the fire department doesn’t have any suspects, he said.

“If anybody knows something about the fire, or saw something, call us,” he said. “We need the public's help.”

Ashtabula City Manager Jim Timonere said the playground equipment was a great asset to the park.

“It is extremely disappointing someone would do this. The city and especially the My Neighborhood Group have worked hard to improve this park and it is getting used constantly,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are some of those in this town that just have no respect for other people and can’t see the good in what we have accomplished at the park.”

Though firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, it wasn't soon enough to save the swing set, Ward 5 Council member Kris Hamrick said.

The park is in Hamrick’s ward and he said he’s upset about the blaze.

“Ward 5 suffered a devastating blow Monday night at the hands of someone who thought it would be funny to burn down playground equipment,” he said. “This park came a long way and it holds a special place in my life.”

About five years ago, Hamrick and his neighborhood coalition joined the park improvements project and focused their efforts to fix up the park. They landscaped it, cleaned it up and put up a new pavilion.

The most recent improvement was the removal of an old fence, he said.

Ashtabula business owner Jane Haines, who is running against Hamrick for the Ward 5 seat in November, said she was campaigning door-to-door on Jefferson Avenue when the resident she was talking to noticed black smoke coming from the playground.

Haines called the fire department on her cell phone.

Earl Tucker, chairman of the city's Parks and Recreation Committee, said he's furious about the fire.

The parks committee, the My Neighborhood Initiative, along with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, the Kent State University Ashtabula Justice Club and the After School Discovery Club 212 worked hard for several years to revitalize Presidential Park, Tucker said.

“In the beginning, it was just a joint effort to clean the park up, remove rubbish and over-growth to make the park cleaner,” he said. “The My Neighborhood group then put up new nets and reopened the basketball courts.”

Community Action Agency joined the effort and planted a community garden at the park.

The YMCA now uses the park's soccer fields for flag football.

Then, this past year, the Ashtabula Area City Schools board of education donated the playground equipment.

In addition, the My Neighborhood group gathered financial backing, supplies and labor to put up a new pavilion, which will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“Then, someone deliberately or inadvertently started a fire in the rubber mulch in the playground,” Tucker said. “The park workers will cleanup and repair the playground as soon as possible.”

Hamrick said the park needs additional lighting and video cameras to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

“This is a diamond in our neighborhood and we need to give it protection,” he said. “People put their heart and soul into this park.”

The Fire Department plans to pursue prosecution of the arsonist. They keep investigations of fires open until a responsible party is identified and brought to justice, Chase said.

"When a person, through the use of fire, causes or creates a substantial risk of physical harm to any property of another without the other person's consent he or she has committed the crime of arson," he said.

Anyone with information concerning Monday night's fire at the park should call Chase at 440-992-7191.

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