A Wednesday afternoon fire at a baseball field behind Fort Vancouver High School destroyed an Alcoa Little League score tower and its contents, including equipment and decades of mementos.
Little league Board President Justin Cvitkovitch said games are scheduled to begin in a couple of weeks, and he wants to ensure players are prepared.
“Our main focus is being ready to play games. I don’t want the kids to be affected,” Cvitkovitch said.
Vancouver firefighters were dispatched around 1:30 p.m. to the school at 5700 E. 18th St., for a report of an outside fire. When crews arrived, they found a two-story structure on fire at one of the school’s fields. It turned out to be the score tower.
Winds fueled the blaze, and the building was quickly destroyed despite firefighters efforts. A total of 11 firefighters responded to the scene, Vancouver firefighter-paramedic Kevin Stromberg said. The fire was extinguished in about 15 minutes.
The Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office and Vancouver Police Department responded to the school to investigate.
Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said the investigation is ongoing. Two potential causes are being looked into: an electrical issue may have ignited the fire, or youth may have been involved in some way, she said.
The bottom level of the tower was filled with equipment, such as gear bags, tees, balls, pitching machines and tools. The fire also destroyed a freezer, a yet-to-be-installed water heater and concession stand inventory, according to a statement from the Alcoa Little League Board of Directors.
Cvitkovitch estimated the monetary loss to be around $20,000. The league has set up a fundraising page asking for half that amount.
“The money will be used to get us what we need to have a successful season,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff in there that was nice to have, like $600 of bottled water, but we can do without it.”
Scarpelli said her office valued everything destroyed, the building and its contents, to be about $47,000.
Upstairs, the fire ripped through the league’s history, which dates back to 1956.
Decades of photos from games of one of the oldest little leagues in Southwest Washington were all lost, Cvitkovitch said. Plaques and other items with invaluable sentimentality attached to them are gone forever.
“The history of our league is gone,” Cvitkovitch said.
The score tower has been damaged before. There have been numerous instances of people breaking into it and other small structures around the baseball fields. The break-ins have sometimes resulted in vandalism and theft.
“Unfortunately, it’s an easy target,” he said.
If this had been one of those instances, the league would likely still have its equipment and historical items. The gear was locked up tight in the tower, and people have not shown interest in stealing pictures, Cvitkovitch said.
The league has to get the OK from the fire marshal about demolishing the score tower.
The board of directors said there are a lot of unanswered questions about how to move forward, but plans are being put in place.
The jerseys and hats for this season were not in the score tower and do not have to be replaced, according to the board.
Teams cannot practice on the field behind the high school until the fire investigation is complete and Vancouver Public Schools allows them to access it. The school district rents out the field to the little league.
Other leagues have reached out and offered use of their fields to practice, Cvitkovitch said.
“We haven’t finalized anything yet, but it should be soon that we do,” he said.
Editor’s note, May 3, 2019: The Alcoa Little League has received a generous grant from the Ray Hickey Foundation to help supplement its GoFund Me campaign. The grant has help offset the majority of the costs to rebuild, according to the little league’s president.