Boardwalk at Venice park destroyed by illegal ‘warming fire’

Sarasota County

VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) — An investigation is underway after a boardwalk caught on fire in Venice. Officials say this highlights the serious fire risk we are seeing here in the Tampa Bay area.

Early Sunday morning, firefighters rushed to Service Club Park where a large portion of the boardwalk caught fire.

It was very difficult to reach the blaze, but they furiously doused the flames and sadly, charred and molten remains were left behind.

The boardwalk and picnic shelters that burned were newly-restored in a replacement project at the park. The city allocated $500,000 for the project, but it came in under budget at just $348,688.

City engineers say the project was 100 percent complete and the final building inspection was scheduled to take place Monday. They are now planning an inspection of the structure to examine the damage and assess what repairs will be needed.

“We’re really disappointed in the timing. If this would’ve happened six months ago, it would’ve been the old boardwalk,” said Assistant City Engineer James Clinch.

Investigators determined an illegal campfire was set nearby. The winds picked it up, sparking the massive inferno.

“It happened from a campfire. So an unintended consequence from a campfire we believe from a homeless group that was living in that immediate area. [They] probably fell asleep and then with the wind we’re having this time of year, caused that to shift over into that area, catch the area on fire,” explained Venice Fire Chief Shawn Carvey.

This is a clear example of why it is illegal to set fires at the beach. Whoever did this could face criminal charges.

“With the way the wind was blowing, it was probably the worst case scenario,” said Carvey.

Chief Carvey says people need to be especially cautious right now because humidity is low and we haven’t had rain in a while.

“This is our dangerous time of year when it comes to outside fires or brush fires,” said Carvey.

If you have any idea who caused this devastating blaze, call the Venice Police Department.

City officials plan to get to work as soon as possible to rebuild the boardwalk.

“We’re glad that nobody was hurt. We’re glad that our fire department was able to respond quickly. We’re going to put the pieces back together and get this park opened as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Clinch.

The Service Club Park is closed and there is no access to the beach from the boardwalk. Authorities are strongly advising people to avoid the area because it is considered dangerous.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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