Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tower fire still a mystery at Wall Springs Park

Charred support posts are what’s left of an observation tower that burned to the ground at Wall Springs Park in Palm Harbor.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Charred support posts are what’s left of an observation tower that burned to the ground at Wall Springs Park in Palm Harbor.

PALM HARBOR — A week after fire destroyed the observation tower at Wall Springs Park, investigators are still at a loss as to what, or who, caused the blaze.

A park visitor reported seeing flames at the tower just after sunrise on Sept. 11. When firefighters reached the park around 7:45 a.m., flames had already chewed through the top two levels of the four-level structure.

The tower, which is separated from the main park by a bridge, wasn't wired for electricity. And a clear day meant no potential for a lightning strike.

"It's not something that started in the brush," Palm Harbor Fire Rescue spokeswoman Liz Monforti said. "It specifically started in the tower."

The $315,000 structure, built overlooking St. Joseph Sound for the enjoyment of bird watchers and view seekers, was a total loss. County officials say they'll rebuild.

• • •

Wall Springs Park's gate opens to a manicured lawn, a flag pole and palm trees. It is anchored by the spring that gave the park its name, a blue-green pool where mullet, sheepshead and otters stay close to the surface. Until the mid 1960s, it was a popular spot for swimmers.

Beyond the spring, a path gives way to a bridge over Boggy Bayou. On the other side, a small island separates the park from St. Joseph Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. That's where the tower stood, giving park visitors a wide view of the water, a place to picnic and a perfect vantage point for bird watching.

"You could see over the water. You could see everything," Maria Ancona, 52, said.

The tower was the only way Ancona could see those areas of the park and the sound. The Tarpon Springs grandmother misses the view.

"This is the kind of vandalism people don't expect," Ancona said as she visited the park with her 2-year-old grandson Santino. "But it exists."

The park sees about 400,000 visitors a year, said Kathy Swain, operations manager for the North District Parks and Conservation Resources Department. Much of its traffic comes from riders on the Pinellas Trail, which runs past the park gate. The park's 200 acres also contain a butterfly garden and covered playgrounds that are favorites for families on weekends.

"We love this park," Cheryl A. Cook, 41, of Oldsmar said Wednesday.

Last time she visited with her children, her daughter was dying to visit the tower. Cook was tired, the kids had been playing, and she promised her they'd come back next time.

"We never made it to next time."

• • •

Detectives from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arson and auto theft unit are still investigating the fire. Despite calls for tips, Detective Larry McClean said, they've had no feedback. Someone spotted the fire, but so far, no one has come forward to say who started it.

The bridge leading to the island where the tower stood is now blocked. Signs hang from the gate announcing an arson investigation in large red letters. The picnic areas will remain closed while construction crews demolish the remains of the tower.

Monforti lamented the loss of the tower, but said it could have been much worse.

"It's been a little dry in that area, and if the wind would have shifted or if the firefighters hadn't been paying attention or something," she said, "the fire could have easily swept through the park."

Claire Wiseman can be reached at (727) 893-8804 or cwiseman@tampabay.com. On Twitter: @clairelwiseman. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Tower fire still a mystery at Wall Springs Park 09/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 20, 2013 6:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa man arrested in fatal motel shooting

    Crime

    TAMPA — A 37-year-old Tampa man was arrested on a manslaughter charge Thursday for the death of Yasmine L. Tyson on Monday night.

     Christopher Lee Carithers, 37, of Tampa, was arrested on a manslaughter charge Thursday  for the shooting death of Yasmine L. Tyson in a hotel Monday night. [Tampa Police Department]
  2. St. Pete's Downtown Looper expands service with $900,000 grant

    Transportation

    By DIVYA KUMAR

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG ­— The Downtown Looper will expand its route and its hours starting in October 2018 thanks to a $900,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

  3. Latest sewage crisis fallout: Higher utility bills in St. Pete

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — For months the cost of the city's sewage crisis has been measured in terms of environmental damage, legal ramifications and political repercussions.

    Now residents are about to get the bill.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage during the height of the city's sewage crisis. Now the City Council is considering how much to raise utility rates to pay the $326 million bill to fix St. Petersburg's sewage system. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  4. Rays add a bat, too, acquiring Lucas Duda from Mets

    Blogs

    The Rays made another big move today, acquiring 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.

    Duda, 31, is a lefty slugger who will take over as the Rays primary DH against right-handers, with Corey Dickerson now playing most of the time in the outfield.

    To get Duda, the Rays gave up minor-league RHP Drew Smith, …

    The Rays acquired 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.
  5. Florida's legal losses up to $19 million and counting since 2011

    Blogs

    From Gary Fineout of the Associated Press:

    This is getting expensive.