Arson fire blamed for ruining playground at Cayucos park

Melted plastic swings draped to the ground behind orange barriers at Hardie Park in Cayucos Monday morning, as a state arson investigator was trying to investigate a playground equipment fire in the town’s largest county park.

The Parks Department estimates that there was $50,000 damage to the main playground area at the park located alongside Cayucos Creek near the lower level of Cayucos Elementary School.

“There are a number of people – mothers and children -- who are very sad that it’s not going to be unavailable for a while,” said county Park Ranger Chuck Lowe. “I don’t think we are going to see that up and running any time soon.”

Arson is suspected, even as fire officials stress that no determination on the fire’s origin has yet been made.

Capt. Jane Schmitze is the Cal Fire arson/fire investigator leading the investigation into the blaze that was reported just after midnight Monday morning.

Schmitz said flames from the fire were in excess of 30 to 35 feet and damaged trees that serve as a buffer between the playground and nearby Cayucos Creek.

Schmitz said that the Cayucos Fire Department was the first to respond, an they drenched the trees to keep the fire from spread. The Cayucos Department requested that she investigate.

While Schmitz has an expertise in arson investigation, she would not comment on possible causes for the fire or whether flammable liquid was used at the site.

The fire took place in the area of swings and a climbing gym for older children west of the park’s flagpole area. Rubber mulch made from tire sidewalls is on the ground to serve as a soft landing for playing children.

The climbing gym had melted down to its metal supports, and Lowe said up to three-quarters of the playground area was involved. .

The nearby tot lot playground east of the flagpole area was undamaged, as was the wood overhang picnic area, and the community pool across the street.

Hardie Park is a favorite place for visitors to set up picnics and use as a family headquarters to enjoy Fourth of July activities in the beachside community. It gets particularly busy during the evening fireworks show, since the fireworks display off the end of Cayucos Pier can be seen from various spots around the park.

Lowe said that holiday revelers will still be able to enjoy other parts of the park since the pool, picnic, bathroom and lawn areas will still be open.

In his 10 years supervising North Coast county parks, he said he cannot remember a case of playground equipment burning.