Make us your home page

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.


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 On Twitter: @clairelwiseman. To write a letter to the editor, go to

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

  1. For some, Memorial Day comes around more than just once a year


    ST. PETERSBURG — It is shortly before nine on a Friday morning, and the heat is already approaching unbearable levels at Bay Pines National Cemetery.

    Iles carefully digs up the St. Augustine grass so that it will continue to grow when it is placed back on the gravesite. He tries not to disturb the root base.
  2. State budget uncertainty has school districts 'very concerned'


    While waiting for Gov. Rick Scott to approve or veto the Legislature's education budget, the people in charge of school district checkbooks are trying hard to find a bottom line.

    It has not been easy.

    The unsettled nature of Florida’s education budget has left school districts with questions about how they will make ends meet next year. []
  3. Ernest Hooper: Removing Confederate symbols doesn't eliminate persistent mindset

    Human Interest

    The debate has begun about removing a Confederate statue from outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse, and its removal is long overdue.

    Robert E. Lee Elementary, 305 E. Columbus Drive in Tampa, originally opened its doors in the early 1910s as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School. [Times file]
  4. What you need to know for Monday, May 29


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    In the weeks before Memorial Day, cemetery caretaker Gary Iles and the staff at Bay Pines National Cemetery are busy preparing the sprawling property for the annual ceremony honoring the fallen. Iles, an Army veteran who started out as a volunteer at Bay Pines, says working at the cemetery is a way for him to continue serving those who died for their country. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival wraps up with Above and Beyond, more at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa


    The first numbers trickled in on Sunday, and they didn't look great.

    Louis the Child performed at the Sunset Music Festival at Raymond James Stadium on May 28, 2017.