LINDEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Two young boys have been charged in connection with a fire that destroyed a playground in Linden, New Jersey.
The boys, ages 11 and 13, are being charged as juveniles with arson and criminal mischief, police said Monday. Both were released to their parents.
As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, the blaze broke out just after 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Wales Park on West Curtis Street.
When officers arrived, thick black smoke could be seen billowing into the air at the playground, which is right in the middle of a residential area.
A day after the fire, Brian Krupski, 4, ran to Wales Park with his grandmother. He was crestfallen to see that one of his favorite places to play had been destroyed.
“It’s all gone,” Brian said. “I’m sad.”
Residents who were nearby at the time posted pictures of the fire on social media showing the intensity of the flames as they engulfed all the playground equipment beginning with the jungle gym, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
“They were very bad,” resident John Kuhtit said. “I thought it was the house next door.”
Patricia Palkoski lives across the street and said firefighters extinguished the flames within minutes.
“I thought it was my car because the smoke was right in front of my window,” she said.
Police said the entire playground area was destroyed and said the cost of the damage is estimated at over $80,000.
Thanks to Palkoski’s neighbors’ surveillance cameras, police had little trouble finding the young suspects. One was caught on camera wearing a bright orange backpack, the other in a light-colored shirt and black backpack.
“The two juveniles had left the scene and returned to the scene, and witnesses in the area identified them as being in the park at the time the fires started,” said Linden police Lt. Christopher Guenther.
City workers on Monday dismantled what was left of the charred and melted playground equipment, and also began removing the recycled crumb rubber mulch on the ground that fire officials said helped fuel the flames.
“Rubber is a largely a petroleum product, so if you get it burning, it’s going to burn good,” said Linden fire Chief Joe Dooley.
“We were told it is nonflammable, but obviously that’s not the case,” said Linden Mayor Derek Armstead.
Armstead said he was completely disheartened, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported.
“Kids do the darnedest things sometimes. Perhaps they were playing with matches, maybe they didn’t think they were going to create such damage,” he said. “Whatever their intent was, they did create the damage and children from this community will suffer.”
Armstead said as a precaution, the city will be removing the flammable mulch from all its playgrounds. He said the city is also looking into installing surveillance cameras at all its playgrounds to improve safety.
Meanwhile, it will be at least a year before the city can replace the playground that once stood at Wales Park.
“It’s really sad, you know,” said Elaine Krupski. “So many kids play here.”
“It’s a shame. You’re depriving little children,” Kuhtit said.
The two boys were charged with second-degree arson and third-degree criminal mischief. They were released to their parents early Monday morning.