ELKTON, Md. -
Witnesses captured pictures of the dark, billowing smoke from blocks away in Elkton.
"I know the fire could be seen all the way by the Walmart cause that's pretty much where I work," said Hallie Boulden.
And it didn't take long for investigators to determine the source of the fire, which would destroy one of the sets of playground equipment at Holly Hall Elementary School.
"Some kid went over there and I heard that they vandalized the school and then the mulch caught on fire," said John Whited.
Witnesses say shortly after the fire was discovered on Saturday, a young teen was spotted running through a neighborhood adjoining the school's property.
"This was determined to be the actions of a 16-year old who was possibly experimenting with a lighter and caught some mulch on fire in the playground area and it quickly grew out of control," said Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch.
The fire scorched the ground and melted the slides and other equipment ultimately growing in size until the heat from the flames cracked nearby windows on the school.
It's estimated the fire caused $40,000 worth of damage, but fire officials say they hope in addition to knocking students out of the use of the equipment, it will provide them a priceless lesson in fire safety.
"It is always a teaching moment,” said Bouch, “A lot of it has to do with family issues, and it's a way of reaching out and asking for help in most cases. This could be isolated. It might just be something he felt like doing. I do not know that at this time, but in most cases, it usually comes from a family issue and the family as a unit---we've gotten away from being there for each other."
The teenager is being charged as a juvenile with arson and malicious burning.
He has been released to the custody of his parents.
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