Plumes of black smoke could be seen for more than 10 miles away as fire engulfed playground equipment at John McFall School at 1810 Hoyt Lane near Northgate Park shortly before 6 p.m. Monday.
The loss was pegged at $60,000.
The relatively new playground came from a grant to the school that is an educational recourse for special education students.
The school borders Northgate Park north of where Hoyt intersects Northgate Drive in the northern central section of the city.
Manteca Fire Department Battalion Chief David Marques said firefighters were hampered from reaching the fire that centered in the rubber chips that made up the safety base of the play area at the rear of the school by a locked gated area. The rubber chips replaced sand and wood chips to protect children should they fall off the equipment.
Marques explained that access was not possible with a fire engine. Bolt cutters had to be used to cut a lock. Some 200 feet of hose was pulled through a gate to shoot water on the blaze.
Destroyed were slides, swings and a jungle gym. A school staff member told firefighters that the last of three consecutive fires occurred about a year ago. The play area backs up to the bike path but an investigation did not show a point of entry or cause of the fire, Chief Marques said.
All the available Manteca engines responded to the fire call that was reported to be a structure in Northgate Park. There was no update on the call, and the engines companies did not know what to expect until they arrived on the scene, the chief said.
He added that the fire was of a suspicious origin adding that the smoke was very noxious but went straight up into the sky and didn’t affect any nearby residential areas.