Children, parents and neighbours belonging to the Dr. Thomas A. Swift Elementary School community in Abbotsford were dismayed to find much of the school's playground in charred ruins on Sunday morning.
Abbotsford police and the fire department were alerted by neighbours reporting that the playground was engulfed in flames around 4.25 a.m., said Const. Ian MacDonald.
A section of the playground equipment, including a large climbing wall and glider, was destroyed.
The heat of the blaze also damaged other parts of the structure.
In places, the only remnants were a collection of metal ribs extending up from the scorched ground.
Grade 5 student Sydney Leppky eyed the burn site mournfully and said scrambling on the structure had been one of her favourite activities.
"It was a great big climbing wall that we all loved to climb on," said the 10-year-old.
"I came here every day. It's so sad to see it all gone. The main attraction is gone."
Pawan Grewal, an assistant at the Hand in Hand afterschool care program, agreed.
"Why would your burn down a playground for kids?" she asked.
"The climbing wall and glider were their favourite things. Every game
was on this. Now they just play with the wood chips."
Dave Stephen, spokesman for Abbotsford School District, said damage estimates could be up to $15,000.
"This is an extremely disappointing and shocking act of vandalism, that takes away a community and school play area from children," said Stephen.
"It's especially hurtful as the playground was developed to ensure children in wheelchairs could have access to a playground."
The school district is reviewing insurance coverage to determine what claim might be submitted, he said.
The playground, built within the last five years, was the legacy of a lot of hard work by Swift's parent advisory council and other community sources, said Swift PAC vice president Joanne Gruber.
"Everybody really pulled together to get that playground up to speed and wheelchair accessible. We went over and above," said Gruber.
The school community even got together to install the playground themselves to save costs, she said.
"To have it destroyed is heartbreaking."
The playground, which probably cost upwards of $80,000, was funded entirely through the PAC and school community, she said.
"The school board doesn't pay for [playgrounds] anymore, its the PAC's responsibility."
"For the parents to work that hard and all the fundraising they did . . . this isn't now replaced by the school board."
The PAC is keeping its fingers crossed that insurance will cover any replacement costs, she said.
Abbotsford Police have canvassed the neighbourhood but don't have any suspects yet, said MacDonald.
"At this point we don't have any witnesses for the fire but we certainly have witnesses to the aftermath and damage done," he said.
Fire investigators haven't yet isolated the cause of the fire but it appears to be consistent with vandalism that police have seen before, said MacDonald, adding damage to schools tends to jump in the summer months.
It's difficult to determine if someone deliberately set out to burn down the playground, or if a makeshift fire was started in a section of the structure that then got out of control, he said.
Deputy Fire Chief Ron Hull said that fire has been deemed suspicious though what caused it is unclear.
"Very rarely do playground fires start for any reason other than vandalism," he said.
Gruber hopes the district will undertake some sort of security measure to prevent any further incidents at Swift.
"It was suggested maybe some sort of surveillance camera because it's quite isolated up there."
-With files from Jean Konda-Witte