Community leaders, kids react to playground fire

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ROCKLAND, WI (WEAU)--Community leaders in the Village of Rockland near La Crosse are trying to figure out how they’re going to replace their new $25,000 playground after deputies say three teenagers set it on fire. The teens could face charges for the fire.

"There was a 2-panel climbing wall right there," Village of Rockland playground project coordinator Mark Meston said, pointing to a lone pole in the ground. "Two slides are completely melted. The plastic roof is completely melted. That tunnel over there is completely melted. And there’s probably about 25% of it, of the steel structure, that we can probably save.”

Meston, his two kids, and a Rockland planning committee spent about five years planning and saving money to get a new playground structure for the community.

Less than a year ago, volunteer crews spent about a day putting it together. But at about 2:30 Sunday morning, it was destroyed by a fire in a matter of minutes. Investigators from the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department say two 14-year-olds and a 17-year-old set the fire after burning wood chips and toilet paper.

"It just rips my heart out that someone lights toilet paper on fire and I don’t think that’s appropriate," said sixth-grader Kelsey Meston.

Kelsey helped pick out parts of the playground. She says she hopes the community will be able to raise enough money to rebuild it.

“Maybe a better version of it," Kelsey said. "I hope to see it back, like it used to be.”

Mark Meston says the village board will also look into installing lights in the park because right now there aren’t any.

"We’re looking at our insurance and different options and we’re going to have the company come out and see what we can salvage off of it and try to rebuild it," Meston said.

But he doesn’t know how soon the kids in the community will be able to climb back on again.

Meston says the committee is working on ways to fund the reconstruction project. If you’d like to help, you can call the Rockford Village Hall at (608) 486-4037.

Story from earlier today, 8/30/11:
ROCKLAND, Wis. (AP) -- Three teenagers could face charges for a fire that destroyed a playground built by the small La Crosse County community of Rockland.

Village President Linda Young says local leaders will meet Tuesday to talk about the future of the playground. Young says it took years to raise the $25,000 needed to build the playground at Gaylord Park.

Investigators say two 14-year-olds and a 17-year-old were lighting toilet paper on fire in the park late Saturday night. By 2 a.m. Sunday, the playground was engulfed in flames.

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