Copyright 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
A strong wind blew across Westgate Heights Park Tuesday afternoon, carrying with it the unmistakable scent of wood smoke and spreading charred pieces of playground wood chips.
About 2:40 a.m. that morning, the Albuquerque Fire Department responded to a call that a children's playground area in the park was on fire. They quickly contained and extinguished the fire, but the playground was a total loss. The plastic parts were melted and many of the metal components were misshapen from the heat.
Dave Simon, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said arson is suspected. He estimated the replacement cost of the playground at about $180,000 and said it would be several months before it is replaced.
"Parks are so important as safe places for families and children, and they are sacred places for our communities, so it's devastating when this kind of damage is done," he said.
Westgate Heights Park, west of Unser and south of Sage, was formerly home to four Little League fields, said City Councilor Klarissa Peña, in whose district the park lies. After new ball fields were constructed at nearby Tower Park, Westgate Heights Park became "blighted and in need of improvement," she said.
Community members told Peña that they wanted to see the abandoned property replaced with a city park. With funding from the state, county and city, about $1 million was put together for the project. In addition, Peña said she was able to acquire another nearly $228,000 for two playground areas, one for younger children and the other for older kids. The park was reopened in January.
It was the playground area for older kids that was destroyed by the fire.
"Getting the call this morning from constituents that it had been burned was just really heartbreaking," Peña said. "This is a community that has lacked investment for many years, and we worked really hard to get the amenities that we do have. For this to happen is really unfortunate. Our community takes pride in these things and we want to find the culprit."
Both Peña and Simon said they were grateful that nobody was hurt and that the fire did not spread to nearby homes.
Peña also asked that if any of the homes whose fronts face the burned playground area have security cameras, that homeowners review the images and if they see anything suspicious call 242-COPS.
This was the second playground fire this year. In January, a fire destroyed part of the playground at Osuna Elementary School in the Northeast Heights. The replacement cost of that playground equipment was put at between $80,000 and $100,000.
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