Suspected Arson at Fairmead Elementary

July 14, 2008 9:48:29 PM PDT
A recent string of vandalism incidents at valley schools continued with a suspected arson fire at a playground in Madera County.This isn't the first time vandals have targeted Fairmead Elementary. School staff members say they're tired of the senseless destruction, but it's really the kids who suffer.

Yellow crime tape and black melted metal have turned this once inviting playground into a disturbing scene.

Erica Stuart, Madera Co. Sheriff's Dept. "30,000 worth of playground equipment destroyed and they also ruined two lights that were posted outside the classrooms on campus."

A Madera County Sheriff's Deputy in the area was alerted that the Fairmead Elementary playground was on fire just after one o'clock this morning. When he arrived, the jungle gym was engulfed in flames. Calfire crews arrived and put out the fire, which investigators now believe someone started by igniting a pile of wood chips.

Bob Blair, Maintenance Supervisor: "As soon as the insurance company looks at it, we're gonna tear it down and try to see how much we're going to have to replace."

Maintenance Supervisor Bob Blair says this isn't the first time vandals have hit this small, rural school.

Bob Blair: "This is the only place in the community they have to play, so they knock out windows, they write on walls, it's a constant problem here."

And recently it's become an increasingly common problem across the valley. Fresno police are investigating eight separate cases from the past two months.

And south valley authorities say five students caused more than a quarter of a million dollars in damages at Avenal Elementary.

Erica Stuart: "It seems to be a horrible wave of this kind of stuff going on, but setting a school on fire, that's a first for us."

But Bob Blair is afraid it won't be the last case of vandalism for Fairmead Elementary.

Bob Blair: "It's pretty frustrating because you replace everything and two weeks later they tear it down again, so it's real frustrating."

Just hours ago we learned about a break-in at another north valley school. Merced police arrested two teens they say stole tricycles from Alicia Reyes Elementary.

Authorities want kids to know they can face serious charges for theft, vandalism, and arson.
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