LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC-TV) – An early morning fire that destroyed much of the Shiver Me Timbers Millennium Park in downtown Lake Charles was intentionally set, according to authorities.
Four fire trucks from the Lake Charles Fire Department arrived to the scene around 5:30 Sunday morning, shortly after receiving a 911 call.
At least half of the south end of the park burned to the ground.
Investigators on the scene took samples with assistance from the state fire marshal's office. At this point, officials believe the cause of the fire was arson.
One possibility is the fire may have been started by homeless individuals trying to stay warm, but authorities caution that is just a theory at this point.
Because arson is expected, authorities are treating the area as a crime scene. The park remains closed for the indefinite future.
The dream of KPLC anchor/reporter Pam Dixon, the park opened in September 2000. The park was built over a ten day period by more than 5,500 volunteers working 12 hours each day. Local businesses donated money and supplies. The 20,000 sq. foot park featured a tower, train, plane, tree house and a multi-story Louisiana Hurricane slide.
"It's really heartbreaking to see what happened here because this wasn't just a playground that was destroyed," said Dixon. "Millennium Park actually represented the heart and soul and the generosity of the people in this area."
Throughout the day, several people stopped by the park to see the damage for themselves, including Jake Philmon, one of the volunteers who helped build the park.
"It's sad," said Philmon. "There's a lot of people that put a lot of hard work into a complex like this. It's very unfortunate that we live in a time when things like this happen."
Anyone with information about the cause of the fire is urged to call the Lake Charles Police Department at 491-1311; the Lake Charles Fire Prevention office at 491-1368 or the Louisiana Fire Marshal's office at 1-800-256-5452.