Update: Play-area fire at Schmitz Park Elementary School, $50,000 damage

(SCROLL DOWN FOR ONGOING UPDATES: Damage estimate, daylight photos, district and PTA comments)

1:24 AM: Seattle Fire is on the way to a possible fire at 5000 SW Spokane, which is the address for Schmitz Park Elementary School. More as we get it.

1:30 AM: Response is being downsized; the fire is apparently on/in play equipment outside, no building/interior involvement. Mostly a bark fire, but “some melted play equipment,” SFD reports. Our crew is still en route.

1:54 AM: Our crew reports it’s some climbing-type equipment at the play area on the west side of the school but it’s significantly damaged. We’ll go back for a daylight look later. No official cause of the fire – the marshal’s on the way.

8:12 AM UPDATE: From Kyle Moore at SFD:

Seattle Fire Investigators have classified an overnight fire at a West Seattle playground as undetermined because there was no obvious source of ignition.

At 1:19 a.m. a call came into dispatchers at the Fire Alarm Center reporting a fire coming from the back of a school located in the 5000 block of SW Spokane Street. The first arriving engine company found flames coming from a playground area. Firefighters quickly knocked down the fire which was confined to the wood chips. The heat and flames also melted and damaged the metal and plastic playground equipment. The damage estimate is $50,000.

We will add daylight photos shortly.

9:13 AM: Just back from the school. Photos of the damage, above and below.

We are following up with Seattle Public Schools for starters. Schmitz Park is West Seattle’s most-populous elementary, with more than 600 students expected this fall. It’s scheduled to move into the new school to be built on the Genesee Hill Elementary site, likely in early 2016.

12:05 PM: District spokesperson Tom Redman tells WSB, “The play equipment was new and installed last summer and funded by the District. Our risk and loss prevention manager will inspect the equipment, after which we’ll determine our next steps.”

2:09 PM: We’ve also heard from the SPES PTA – starting with this detailed comment from outgoing president Jeff Rayner.

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44 Replies to "Update: Play-area fire at Schmitz Park Elementary School, $50,000 damage"

  • comment-avatar
    Cameron June 26, 2014 (1:34 am)

    I can hear all the firetrucks from the junction. Must be at least 6-7 emergency vehicles.

    • comment-avatar
      WSB June 26, 2014 (1:36 am)

      It was a full “fire in building” response until they got there and discovered it wasn’t major, thankfully, so they’re sending most of the units back. Bad enough though to hear some play equipment’s damaged.

  • comment-avatar
    tim June 26, 2014 (1:44 am)

    Tv news showed up quick two guys

    • comment-avatar
      WSB June 26, 2014 (1:53 am)

      We tweeted it was a school and that would be automatic overnight photojournalist response.

  • comment-avatar
    Di Knox June 26, 2014 (1:53 am)

    Really! You had to wake up all of West Seattle for a school being torn down? Call Jose! Oh wait! He doesn’t live here any more!

  • comment-avatar
    tim June 26, 2014 (2:09 am)

    I wonder why Ladder 11 is showing up again in the dispatch log. That log can be so confusing at times.

  • comment-avatar
    Person June 26, 2014 (5:22 am)

    Bummer. That playground structure was brand new too.

  • comment-avatar
    Di June 26, 2014 (6:19 am)

    You missed my point, all those resources being used for a bark fire and loss of a good night’s sleep.

  • comment-avatar
    Gabby June 26, 2014 (7:15 am)

    That looks to be the kindergarten playground.

  • comment-avatar
    SP Parent June 26, 2014 (7:49 am)

    Di – as a parent of an SP student, I must say I am disappointed in your comments and tone. The playground that was destroyed was new, used for kindergarteners and first graders, and was recently installed to provide them with a safe place to get their energy out. The structure is in between two arms of the building, and is not visible from the street. A fire in the play structure would look like it was coming from inside the building. I’m sorry you lost a night of sleep – I’m glad I didn’t lose my school.

  • comment-avatar
    miws June 26, 2014 (7:56 am)

    Di, so, SFD should just assume, that it was just a bark fire (we don’t even know if it was called in as such), and send out one or two units, only then to discover that it may have been much worse, not only putting the school building at risk, (even if was to be demolished), as well as neighboring Homes and the Park?


    WSB almost always brings up the point of these Full Callouts, even on Incidents that end up being minor, or nothing, because the question/comment of “Why” comes up just about every time, and often seems to be made in an “Oh, I was so inconvenienced!” tone.



  • comment-avatar
    ohm13 June 26, 2014 (7:56 am)

    My children go to this school and we live nearby. I for one am glad the fire dept. reacted like they did even if it woke me up too. The play structure is right next to the school and a bunch of portables and could have potentially caught either on fire. Sorry if it disturbed anyone’s beauty rest.
    I went by this morning to check out the damage and the entire thing is destroyed. Someone would have really had to try hard to torch a play structure made of plastic and metal but they did. Sad.

  • comment-avatar
    HotCoffee June 26, 2014 (8:29 am)

    That is the brand new K play area. KING 5 reporting $50,000 in damages. That’s sad.
    Di – this area is right next to the school and had it spread it could have been much worse. Focus your anger on the kids who probably started this and not on the fire Dept who were doing their job protecting the school and neighborhood.

    • comment-avatar
      WSB June 26, 2014 (9:08 am)

      HC – we reported the damage estimate about an hour ago. See bottom of story. And we’re adding daylight photos in a couple of minutes. Wouldn’t have known where to find it if co-publisher Patrick Sand hadn’t gone to the fire – and as you point out, the building is very close by. The damage to the play structure is extensive so at some point this must have been fully involved. – TR

  • comment-avatar
    Penelope June 26, 2014 (8:40 am)

    Di, would you prefer they just let the fire burn and spread???

  • comment-avatar
    BMC June 26, 2014 (8:42 am)

    Di, hopefully you will sleep better tonight. Perhaps a sense of loss or compassion will come in your dreams.

  • comment-avatar
    Jason June 26, 2014 (8:49 am)

    hahah God forbid Di should lose a bit of sleep for one night.

  • comment-avatar
    Hollywood June 26, 2014 (9:02 am)

    Di, ok so when its your home fire we will make sure to only send a bucket of water and a squirt gun to let the neighbors sleep

  • comment-avatar
    Danico June 26, 2014 (9:46 am)

    Can you post if there is any donations or clean up help needed?

    • comment-avatar
      WSB June 26, 2014 (9:55 am)

      We will absolutely be publishing a followup as soon as we have checked with key sources such as the district and the SP PTA. And if anyone from the latter (or others directly involved with the school) hear/see something sooner, please let us know and/or comment here. (editor@westseattleblog.com, 206-293-6302, any time) – Tracy

  • comment-avatar
    alki resident June 26, 2014 (10:22 am)

    Is the playground equipment insured? I don’t really care about DI losing sleep, but did the kids who set the playground on fire lose any sleep knowing what they did? I guarantee you, everyone of those kids who helped or watched it go up in flames, once used a playground as a child. You should be so ashamed of yourselves and I hope karma reaches all of you quickly.

    • comment-avatar
      WSB June 26, 2014 (10:32 am)

      The fire department has NOT determined it was arson, let alone that “kids [or anyone else] set it on fire.” Every word of their statement is in the story above as of about 2 hours ago. Fireworks? Smoking? So far unsolved. It’s in a relatively remote part of the school.

  • comment-avatar
    alki resident June 26, 2014 (11:12 am)

    How many adults smoke on a playground? let alone at 1am? I did read the story. Common sense tells me kids.

  • comment-avatar
    Alice June 26, 2014 (11:25 am)

    My son spent the whole last year playing on that structure. He’ll be so sad that it’s gone… I’m tempted to take him down and have a conversation about respect and safety. Would love to have the same conversation (in a different tone) with whoever did this. Hoping desperately that justice will be served.

  • comment-avatar
    Jason June 26, 2014 (12:36 pm)

    @alki resident – I think you’re using karma wrong. And I think you’re maybe using the term ‘common sense’ a little loosely as well.
    Real bummer to see this happen either way.

  • comment-avatar
    Mike June 26, 2014 (1:00 pm)

    melted metal, that would be an accelerant used I imagine, which I’d assume is arson. This scares me as my house is right by there. I’ll be keeping a closer eye on things this summer, more than I usually do. I might need to get some cameras and provide SPD and SFD with the link to view activity.

  • comment-avatar
    Shotgun Shane June 26, 2014 (1:12 pm)

    While the SPD/SFD do their job of finding out who or what is responsible, we as a community should organize to get a donation site set up ASAP. Let’s get this rebuilt! Ayone recommend a good crowdfunding website? I’m happy to reach out to SPS and the Schmitz Park PTA.

  • comment-avatar
    miws June 26, 2014 (1:23 pm)

    Yes, carelessly discarded cigarette butts can easily start a bark (or other combustible) fire, but it’s not unheard of for beauty bark to combust spontaneously, to to the build-up of heat.


    I can even remember my Dad talking about hay piles spontaneously combusting, for the same reason.



  • comment-avatar
    Jeff Rayner (PTA President) June 26, 2014 (1:28 pm)

    Thanks to all for your concern, offers of donation, and willingness to assist in any way.

    Here is the latest update:
    * No update on how fire started – cause is still being investigated
    * Damage to play structure appears to be total
    * Damage to building is considerable, yet luckily nothing major (19 windows and nearby wall boards). These are being fixed today
    * This was a new play structure (opened this year)
    * Structure was paid for by district funds (not PTA monies)
    * Thanks to all those who suggested crowd funding and donations. Currently, we believe the replacement will be covered by district insurance. We will update WSblog, our blog (schmitzparkpta.org), and email our parents in the event of complication.
    * Area affected is considered a danger zone, and therefore no parent help is needed at this time (yet thanks for your offers). Professional cleanup is required and they will be onsite as soon as soon as possible.
    * The local company that built the structure has been alerted and we trying to figure out how soon we can have a replacement installed. (more to come)

    Finally, we are expecting to have around 600 kids in the school this year. If the building had been affected, this could have been disastrous for our kids and the community. We are very lucky this was contained, that no one was hurt and our sincere thanks to all fire fighters involved.

    Very best regards,
    Jeff Rayner

  • comment-avatar
    JanS June 26, 2014 (1:52 pm)

    you’re all speculating about causes. It could have been spontaneous combustion, as Mike said. I’m glad that this will presumably be covered by district insurance. Maybe they could find another material to use instead of wood chips? One that would be equally comfortable for the kids, but wouldn’t cause splinters, and wouldn’t burn so quickly. Just a thought…I don’t know if there is anything out there like that.

  • comment-avatar
    Derek Birnie June 26, 2014 (2:05 pm)

    Thanks Jeff for all your hard work responding to all the calls and e-mails and keeping the Schmitz Park PTA organized.
    We are an all-volunteer organization; with a number of amazing leaders like Jeff. Folks can always find our contact information and other udpates at http://www.schmitzparkpta.org.

  • comment-avatar
    WSB June 26, 2014 (2:09 pm)

    Just noticed that two of the three photos we had added weren’t showing due to a code error. Now fixed. And thanks to Jeff and Derek from the SPES PTA for commenting. – TR

  • comment-avatar
    Mike June 26, 2014 (3:11 pm)

    JanS, speculation is all you can do until the investigation is complete. Even spontaneous combustion is speculating. It could have been that, but typically wood chips will smolder and not flame up, much less to that height, and much much less that temp to melt metal (think much much hotter than wood burning).
    A replacement could be old tire rubber that is chipped up into chunks. Softer and no splinters, but a much worse issue if they catch fire.

  • comment-avatar
    I. Ponder June 26, 2014 (3:35 pm)

    Spontaneous combustion? Ridiculous. Large piles of fresh wood chips can heat up a lot from composting but not hot enough to spontaneously combust. I’ve had steam that looked like smoke come from such a pile. Play chips will not spontaneously combust. The most likely explanation is probably the one that actually happened but who am I to jump to conclusions until final report has been issues.

  • comment-avatar
    Jennie June 26, 2014 (6:13 pm)

    Last weekend when I was walking around the track at Madison Middle School around 8am Saturday morning, we came across a very melted & burnt to ashes office chair at the base of the steps that lead out onto the field. Looks like they lit it up on the track as part of the rubberized track was blackened too. It has since been cleared away so assuming that the school knows about it. Could be connected?

  • comment-avatar
    sp mom June 26, 2014 (6:57 pm)

    It would be amazing if it were replaced in time for school to start since that project drug on for the entire school year two years ago because of delays.

  • comment-avatar
    Brandon June 26, 2014 (7:14 pm)

    From Principal Kischner:

    “We appreciate the prompt response of the Seattle Fire Department, which prevented what could have been a much more serious outcome. Although the heat was enough to blister paint on the outside of the building and crack numerous windows, there was no damage to the interior or the structure of the building. Mr. McNaughton and school district maintenance responded quickly this morning to secure the area and repair windows. A security fence is expected tomorrow, and it is likely that the damaged structure will be removed fully next week.”

    Di, I hope this calms your nerves about resources spent and lost sleep, over what could have been a much, much bigger event.

    Thank you SFD.

  • comment-avatar
    Di June 26, 2014 (8:02 pm)

    I work for sps I don’t sleep because the kids in my school don’t have food. So don’t judge me.

  • comment-avatar
    metrognome June 26, 2014 (8:23 pm)

    well, if we’re gonna speculate, let’s be realistic. The fire was clearly caused by an alien spacecraft doing battle with the playground equipment because the command crew mistook it for a battery of lasers. As the aliens use technology that is well beyond our science, SFD won’t ever be able to identify the source. I’ve heard rumors that History Channel 2 already has a crew on the way so this incident can be incorporated in their next special on extra-terrestrial contacts.
    Unfortunately, most earthly property insurance policies don’t cover damage caused by alien contact, friendly or otherwise, unless you have the special UFO coverage.

  • comment-avatar
    WS resident June 26, 2014 (8:57 pm)

    Anyone else find meteorite fragments in their yard last night? Possible source of ignition?

  • comment-avatar
    Favorite child June 27, 2014 (7:56 am)

    Just imagine if this had happened at a school other than SP. Thank God it happened at a school the district will likely not think twice about replacing equipment for.

  • comment-avatar
    sc June 27, 2014 (10:34 am)

    A neighbor had a small fire started under bushes in beauty bark which was caused by kids throwing firecrackers. The fire department was called and responded but in the mean time a neighbor got a hose and put it out. We apologized for having called them but they said to always call no matter what, that’s what they’re here for! They also checked the beauty bark with a camera that could see if there were still embers. I’m glad they came.

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