A well-utilized area at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School was the target of arson early Monday morning and, although students were not at risk or classes suspended, the resulting damage has caused a structural safety concern with one of the baseball field dugouts.
“It will have to be rebuilt,” school Principal Molly Yerkes said. “Who would do something like this to a school? Kids go there to learn and to play … I don’t even know what to say.”
On Monday morning the Juneau Police Department and Capital City Fire & Rescue received reports of several small fires on the DZ school grounds.
One fire caused a support beam on the #2 baseball field dugout to fail. Damage was estimated at more than $1,000. Parks & Rec employees made structural repairs but Yerkes stated a rebuild would be necessary, especially in light of the charred wood.
Another fire completely destroyed a privately owned portable restroom near the field’s backstop, causing over $3,000 in damage.
The smoldering fires were extinguished by CCFR.
“When we have an arson it is a cooperative effort,” JPD sergeant Steve Hernandez said. “They do a lot of the forensic stuff and we’ll do some of the interviewing and evidence gathering and sending items to the crime lab. We don’t have the expertise that they do.”
The joint investigation by JPD and CCFR Fire Marshal Dan Jager with additional aid from school personnel resulted in various evidence seized on scene. Authorities believe the fire originated sometime between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Jager said that first response to the scene determines an overall picture of structural or vehicle fire, burn patterns in metal or wood, and establishing a point of origin, and whether the fire was accidental, electrical, or even equipment malfunction.
“A lot of time what is a big help is doing interviews with people,” Jager said. “Property owners, witnesses, whoever was around that may have called in the fire. That is usually a big help to use because they tell us exactly what they saw at a certain time during the event and it helps us come up with a time line. We are kind of like fire cops. We look at anything in the immediate area, looking for any kind of clues, some are obvious and some are very minute.”
The investigation is ongoing. This is the second arson in the past two weeks at DZ. A small grass fire last week is also believed to be arson. The JPD and CCFR have not ruled out a connection.
“Hopefully whoever is doing this realizes this is not a game,” Jager said. “If a responder gets hurt putting out a fire, or someone is injured on the way to a response, that is a whole other set of criminal charges. This is pretty serious.”
Persons with information are encouraged to call the JPD at 586-0600 or CCFR at 586-5322.
The arsons not only affect each school class using the fields but also Gastineau Little League, and the Juneau-Douglas High School soccer, track, and baseball teams — all of which have a busy schedule this week.
“Our field is used until 10 or 11 at night every day,” Yerkes said. “It is really to bad. We had a beautiful dugout and now it is all charred, and the port-a-potties were there for the community use in the evenings.”
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.