As they do most mornings, joggers, dog walkers and stroller-pushing parents descended Thursday upon the quiet pathways at North Davis’ Northstar Park.
But those hoping to take advantage of the wildlife-viewing platform at Julie Partansky Pond were met with disappointment, arriving to find the walkway leading to the viewing area blocked off due to a suspected arson fire earlier that morning.
“I’m shocked that somebody would do something like that — it’s a place where people enjoy going out into nature,” Davis resident Theresa Montemayor said as she guided her dog past a chain-link gate threaded with yellow fire line tape. “I don’t know what the point is. It’s a real shame.”
Davis Fire Department officials say someone intentionally or accidentally set fire to the popular wooden structure early Thursday morning, destroying a roughly 200-foot-long section of the walkway and viewing platform named in honor of former Davis Mayor Julie Partansky, who lost her life to cancer in 2009.
The fire was reported shortly after 5:30 a.m., sending flames above the tree line by one neighbor’s account.
“It’s all gone,” Davis Fire Marshal Tim Annis said of the platform, which overlooks a drainage pond that attracts numerous species of native birds and other wildlife. Damage to the structure, which reopened last year after undergoing $30,000 worth of improvements, was estimated at $150,000.
Annis said investigators will explore whether this fire has any connection to the March 23 blaze that damaged the wooden benches and deck surrounding a large oak tree at Central Park, but as of now, “we can’t say,” he said.
News of the fire both upset and angered city officials as well as neighbors who regularly enjoy both the wildlife area and the nearby whimsical garden and seating area built in Partansky’s memory back in 2012.
“This is a terrible and senseless loss, made all the more painful because Julie was one of our most caring leaders who respected all,” Mayor Joe Krovoza said. “No doubt the city and our community will right this wrong and rebuild this wonderful amenity to the Northstar wetlands.”
Juliette Beck, whose Luz Place home is just south of the wildlife pond, said she went to retrieve something from her car at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday when “I looked up and saw the sparks flying.”
Thinking the fire might be coming from her neighbor’s back yard, Beck went to investigate and discovered the blaze was, in fact, near the pond, “where I’ve been almost every day for the past five years.”
“My kids have practically grown up on that walkway,” said Beck, adding that she fielded numerous calls and texts Thursday from friends equally devastated over the structure’s loss. “What was really eerie for me is that it burned quite dramatically. It definitely seemed like it was a sophisticated, intentional burn.”
City officials say they plan to rebuild the structure, having already consulted with insurance providers as well as the city’s Public Works Department, which will oversee the project, by Thursday afternoon.
While a timeline for reopening the viewing platform won’t be established for a week or so, “I’m hoping to fast-track it and get the money quickly as possible to start the project,” said Melissa Chaney, the city’s director of human resources.
For Beck, the sooner it reopens, the better.
“It’s almost like a sacred place for us,” she said. “It’s such a treasure, a real gem.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene. Videos courtesy of Bill Sweet and Juliette Beck