One of McKinley Park's most popular attractions the beloved playground was destroyed Saturday by an early-morning fire in what Sacramento firefighters are calling a case of arson.
"It's just beyond me that somebody would want to burn that down," said Alex Hastings, 22, who said he grew up playing on the playground's wooden structures.
Sacramento Fire Department Assistant Chief Niko King said fire officials have not completely ruled out an accident.
"We're calling it arson because we know this is human-caused," he said. "There's no electrical wiring or anything mechanical that would cause a fire out there."
The fire was reported at 1:18 a.m. Fortunately, a fire crew from the nearby station arrived quickly, because the flames were already 50 to 60 feet high, King said.
The investigation continued Saturday through much of the day. King said a witness told members of the department that a person was seen running from the park. But investigators found no physical evidence.
The effects of the blaze will be far-reaching, King said.
"It's not a single house, it's not a single family, it's not a single business. It impacts the entire community," he said.
Neighbors in east Sacramento and midtown built and maintained the playground, with diminishing help from the city as parks budgets shrank. It was constructed in 1994 with donations and city funds, neighbors recalled, with 2,500 volunteers erecting it in just four days.
"This is a very important community landmark, given how many people worked on it to build it 18 years ago and, in addition, all the people who have played on it since then, all the parents and kids," said Councilman Steve Cohn, whose district includes McKinley Park.
Cohn said he had spent the day at the park talking to children and young people who remember playing there when they were little.
"To have that taken away, that's devastating," he said.
Cohn said he will meet with other city officials on Monday to make plans to rebuild. He said he expects the playground to be rebuilt by next summer or earlier.
"I've already been getting a lot of offers from people to either help raise money or to volunteer," he said.
It is likely that the entire structure will be replaced, since it was already aging. Cohn said few playgrounds last longer than 20 years.
Whether the new structure will have the charm of the old one remains to be seen.
"Especially for a little kid, it was so complex," Hastings said.
He remembered going to the playground with his grandmother and picnicking on the lawn nearby.
"There were lots of hiding places," he said. "It was great for playing tag."