Police seek tips

Anyone with information about the fire at Black Rock Elementary is encouraged to call Erie police Detective Dan Niemoth at 303-926-2835. Anonymous tips may be provided by calling 1-877-89ARSON (1-877-892-7766.) The hotline is offering a $5,000 award for information leading to a conviction.

Investigators in Erie are searching for answers after an apparent arson fire destroyed the preschool playground at Black Rock Elementary School early Wednesday morning.

Multiple residents in the town's Vista Ridge neighborhood called 911 at around 4:50 a.m. Wednesday to report the impressive blaze, which completely consumed the playground at the school, at 2000 Mountain View Blvd., officials with Mountain View Fire Rescue said.

The fire, which produced flames about 50 feet high, drew crews from Mountain View, Lafayette Fire, Erie police and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, officials said. It was quickly extinguished before spreading to the school.

Investigators have determined the fire was arson, but have not divulged any additional information.

"The details of the incident aren't being released at this time as it is still under investigation," said Amy Tallent, spokeswoman for Mountain View Fire, adding that department investigators are collaborating with Erie police on the case.

Erie police Cmdr. Lee Mathis said that some callers provided descriptions of possible suspects related to the fire, but details were so general they were not expected to be of much help.

Separately, police received a report early Sunday morning about two suspicious people possibly trying to start a fire on the grounds of Colorado National Golf Club, near the intersection of Skyline Drive and Moss Place, but officers were unable to locate the suspects or any evidence in the area, Mathis said.

He urged residents to be vigilant and call police if they see anything odd.

A group of neighborhood children come out to look at the playground that was burned down in a possible arson fire at Black Rock Elementary in Erie on
A group of neighborhood children come out to look at the playground that was burned down in a possible arson fire at Black Rock Elementary in Erie on Wednesday. (Mark Leffingwell / Daily Camera)

Josh Melver, a Vista Ridge resident and running coach, said he was in a field near the school around 4:45 a.m. Wednesday preparing for a boot camp class he was leading when he saw a glimmer out of the corner of his eye.

Melver drove over to the playground area just in time to see the fire begin to consume the playground equipment. He quickly called 911.

The father of four, including a kindergartner and a fourth-grader, called the suspected arson "a cowardly act."

"After the fact, I was thinking, 'Dang, I should have driven around to see who started it,'" Melver said. "At 4:45 a.m., I'm made fun of for getting up and working out, but at least that's a good reason to get up early.

"Who would get up that early to commit such an atrocious act?"

The fire caused an estimated $50,000 in damage, St. Vrain Valley School District spokesman John Poynton said, wrecking the playground equipment, the mulch underneath it and a nearby fence.

There was no camera on the building filming the playground area, he said.

New playground equipment already has been ordered, Poynton said, and the area should be fully repaired by the time school starts in the fall.

"We're very appreciative of the early morning calls from the community to the fire department and we're extremely grateful for the rapid response by the fire department and police," Poynton added.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328, rubinoj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/rubinojc.