Three children ages 11, 12 and 17 admitted that they set fire to the Sullivan Elementary School playground April 26, Sullivan Police Department Lt. Patrick Johnson said.
Firefighters arrived at the playground at 6:06 p.m. to see “massive” amounts of smoke, Fire Marshall Corey Rice said.
The rubber material on the playground reacted heavily to the flames, which caused the large cloud of black smoke. “It drew crowds from all over town to see what was going on,” he said.
Damages totaled about $5,000, he said, with a swing set and the ground covering affected. The fire itself was relatively small and contained in a 20-foot-by-20-foot area.
The three children, whose names have not been released, were burning leaves, sticks and fallen branches, Johnson said.
“Obviously it was careless what they did, but I’m not exactly sure what they were trying to do other than we know they were lighting things on fire,” he said. “They ran away when the fire got big because I don’t think they intended to have the rubberized swingset surface catch the way it did.”
Rice said the windy day helped the fire spread farther than it would have typically.
With that in mind, Superintendent Dr. Jana Thornsberry said that “they were lucky. It could have a caused a lot more damage than it did. They’re lucky it didn’t jump and take off into the woods.”
The children were caught on the school’s camera, through which they were identified, Johnson said.
Officers went to the children’s houses to interview them, and there, the kids admitted to setting the fire. The 11-year-old and 17-year-old live in the same household; the 12-year-old lives in another. All are students in the Sullivan School District, Johnson said.
The fire was out within minutes, and firefighters left just before 6:30 p.m., according to Rice.
The children were not arrested, Johnson said.
The district is following the handbook’s guidelines on arson to discipline the students, Thornsberry said.