Fire at the Fairgrounds

Photo still from video by Shaela Waggoner: Three teenage boys allegedly started the Graham County Fairgrounds playground on fire on Friday.

GRAHAM COUNTY – A devastating fire has turned a place of joy and play into a dump. But while the Graham County Fairgrounds playground will be likely be lost for the summer, it will come back better than before.

The volunteer Safford Fire Department rolled three trucks and their water tender to the Graham County Fairgrounds on Friday after being dispatched at about 4:05 p.m. Upon arrival, the firefighters were greeted by a fully engulfed structure.

According to authorities on the scene, three teenage boys (two age 13, one 14) playing with matches started the fire in the playground area and were not able to stop it. The fire ate up the shredded rubber tire infill and belched out toxic, black plumes of smoke as masked firefighters fought to contain the blaze.

After about two hours of labor and 20 gallons of foam placed on top to prevent the smoldering mess from reigniting, the battle was won. However, the loss was great as only skeletons remained of the once, often-used playground equipment.

“It’s a shame to see a playground get destroyed out of carelessness,” said Safford Fire Chief Clark Bingham. Fourteen-year-olds don’t play at that playground – little kids do. Now, no one does.”

A government employee initially saw the smoke when he was in the area on another errand. Upon investigating, he located the three teens and together they attempted to quench the fire without success. An ambulance was called to the scene to evaluate those involved.

Photo still from video by Shaela Waggoner. The fire consumed pretty much everything but the rocks.

The Graham County Board of Supervisors has been in the process of replacing the shredded tire infill – which has drawn a number of complaints from park users and parents – with a solid rubberized surface. After securing the funding, the Board was set to begin the process after summer. Now, it will do the same upgrades but will also replace the lost playground equipment. Chairman Danny Smith said in addition to the solid, safe play surface and replaced equipment, the playground will be more ADA-compliant with the addition of sidewalks and water fountains. There is no set timetable for the playground reopening as of yet.

Graham County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jacob Carpenter told the Gila Herald that the Sheriff’s Office was waiting on a damage estimate from the county before proceeding with any possible charges.