The East End Park fire burned half a football field of meadow. Photo by Bruce Olson

A fire in Kingwood’s East End Park April 1 that started from an unknown cause resulted in an arson investigation and a conclusion by the investigator that there was no evidence of arson. That finding was presented to the Kingwood Service Association (KSA) Parks Committee at its April 4 monthly meeting by East End Park steward Bob Rehak, along with an informational warning from the arson investigator.

Rehak said, “We had a fire in the park and there was an arson investigator out there. The fire was in the park’s meadow, a grass fire, and covered about 50 feet by 200 feet, about half a football field long.”

He explained that the arson investigator found no evidence of arson but noted that the fire did not start by itself on a clear sunny day, pointing out that somebody probably did something that resulted in the fire, whether it was provable arson or not. Rehak said that he personally explored the area around the fire and found possible evidence of firecrackers nearby. As a result, he asked all park committee representatives to go back to their village associations and point out to residents that damaging fires, started intentionally or unintentionally through negligence, can be serious in terms of criminal consequences. He noted that the arson investigator included an informational warning when he concluded the investigation. Rehak said, “The investigator said arson is a Class A felony and carries the same penalty as murder basically. If the thing gets out of control and burns down somebody’s house, it is a serious, life-altering accident for a kid who was just playing around with some firecrackers.”

Dee Price, the steward for River Grove Park, added that recently there had been another fire just north of the River Grove Park soccer fields. The fire department was called to put it out but it had spread from the Barrington detention pond south until it was stopped at the edge of the soccer field road. No cause was determined, but the fact that it happened reinforced the reason to call attention to the issue of fires to residents by their community associations. Firecrackers and still burning cigarettes and other common items are all proven causes of fires and are just as dangerous as a lightning strike if fire results.

In other business, when Chairman Chris Manthei opened the meeting for public comments, Kingwood resident Amy Slaughter asked the committee to revisit the recently denied Lake Houston Rowing Club’s request to place its docking facilities and boat storage at River Grove Park.

“We understand what we are facing with dealing with the City of Houston,” she said. “What we’re curious about is if we are willing to maintain any kind of liability insurance and if we are willing to take on any of the expenses that would be incurred and if we are willing to completely build the safety fence [around the boat storage area], what can we change in our plan to make it acceptable?”

Manthei responded, “We are not against the idea of rowing but there is concern that the facilities that you require in the locations that you located would be rather disruptive to the park.”

He pointed out that committee representatives had met with rowing club representatives (Daniel and Cristina Udeanu) to review the original proposal in detail. As a group, they visited the proposed locations in the park and other areas along the San Jacinto River. As noted in Price’s written recommendation to deny the original request at the March meeting, the reasons for denial go beyond the issues of liability insurance and breakaway safety fences. They include the fact that River Grove Park is in the San Jacinto floodway and the city may not allow installation of floating docks and cement walkways in the floodway, because the structures as proposed may cause issues with the flow of water through the area. In addition, the boat storage facilities location, where proposed, could potentially impact usage of both the children’s playground areas and the sports fields.

Manthei advised Slaughter that until the club had a specific alternative proposal to consider that overcomes the concerns already noted, there was no further action appropriate for the committee to take. If an alternative could be developed to satisfy its concerns, the committee would certainly review it.

The next KSA Parks meeting will be Thursday, May 2, at 7 p.m. at the South Woodland Hills Community Room, 2030 Shadow Rock Drive in Kingwood. The public is invited to attend.

Bruce Olson
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I have been married since 1970 to Kerry, my best friend and a great Australian woman. I served and survived Vietnam in the U.S. Air Force. I fought forest fires in the summer while in college, where I earned a B.A. in economics from Oklahoma State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Texas. I retired from Continental Airlines. I have a son and two granddaughters in Kingwood, and a daughter and two grandsons on a farm near Mazabuka, Zambia. I am now enjoying life as a grandfather, Tribune correspondent and Humble ISD guest teacher when not traveling to Zambia or Australia.