Playground fire, arson convention, and two teens cooling their heels

The playground at Twin Lakes in Juneau is seen fully engulfed in flames in this photo taken from Egan Drive.

And it happened that two teenagers set fire to a beloved playground structure in Juneau — while a convention of about 40 fire and arson investigators was in the capital city.

Bad timing.

The fire and arson investigators are meeting this week for the 32nd annual Fire and Arson Investigations Training Conference, where they can re-up their certifications and get new ones. Those teens didn’t stand a chance. They’re now cooling their heels at the Johnson Youth Center.

Project Playground along Twin Lakes was an iconic playground village seen by nearly everyone who uses Egan Drive to get from downtown Juneau to the hospital, Lemon Creek, the Mendenhall Valley and beyond.

It’s been explored by thousands of children over its decade-long history, as a delightful, integrated set of play equipment that was also designed to be accessible to children in wheelchairs or walkers. It was an authentic place, and a point of community pride.

Built in 2007,  the playground was a labor of love by volunteers, businesses, nonprofits, and the City and Borough of Juneau, involving more than 1,500 people and more than 17,000 hours, much of it volunteer hours. The fundraising portion of the project took two years. There was more than $1 million invested in the playground and volunteer groups took pride in power washing it and repairing it.

With the shredded rubber surface providing fuel to the fire, the playground was quickly engulfed, and burned to the ground just six weeks before its 10-year anniversary.

Mayor Ken Koelsch said that next week he and City Manager Rorie Watt will call a meeting of the original group who conceived of and spearheaded the playground, as well as anyone else interested in a discussion about how to rebuild it.

Meanwhile, Juneau has experienced a series of unexplained fires, including damage to a downtown business, and the burning of a dugout canoe in Indian Village, which is also downtown. There have also been at least two grass fires in uninhabited areas that had no obvious identifiable cause.

The teens who are now cooling their heels at the Johnson Youth Center are likely to have a lot to answer for.

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