Arson suspected in water-park clubhouse fire
Posted December 18, 2008 5:35 a.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2008 2:48 p.m. EST
Hope Mills, N.C. — Investigators suspect a fire that destroyed the clubhouse at Fantasy Lake Water Park early Thursday was set, the park owner said.
Marjorie Turner said arson investigators told her it appeared a truck parked near the end of the building where various chemicals were stored had been set ablaze, and the fire quickly spread through the 10,000-square-foot clubhouse.
"The entire building is gone," said Turner, who bought the water park with her husband, James, in 2005, after spending her childhood summers playing and swimming there.
The Turners said a neighbor called them about the fire. The woman said her dog's barking woke her up, and she saw the flames, according to the Turners.
"There were flames coming out of the roof already, and all I could do was stare in disbelief," Marjorie Turner said. "It's just devastation. It doesn't even seem real."
Authorities found the building, at 5869 Permastone Lake Road, burning when they responded to a security alarm that went off in the clubhouse at about 1 a.m.
"The conditions were too dangerous to go in the building. We had to say on the outside," said Freddie Johnson Jr., a firefighter with the Stoney Point Fire Department.
About 15 fire crews from Cumberland County, Hoke County and Fayetteville responded to the four-alarm fire. Firefighters had difficulty pumping water from the lake and nearby hydrants, so they had to truck water in from another source, authorities said.
The clubhouse contained an arcade, pool room, gift shop, restaurant, offices and mechanic's shop, the Turners said.
Last year, the couple added paddle boats as the newest attraction. All but six of the boats burned in the fire, but nearby water slides and "Tarzan swings" weren't damaged.
"This is a safe place for families and kids to come, so I'm sure they'll be upset," Marjorie Turner said as she wiped away tears.
Debbie Jones said her teenage son practically lived at the water park.
"It's devastating. They created a safe place here in the town of Hope Mills for the kids, and right now, it's gone," Jones said.
The Turners don't have any insurance, but they plan to rebuild in time to open next summer. Marjorie Turner said her father and brother are contractors and will assist in the rebuilding.
Almost 100,000 people visit Fantasy Lake Water Park each summer, and the park employs about 90 teens.
"This is the blood, sweat and tears – everything that we've worked for every single day from April to September," Marjorie Turner said. "Every day we're here, sometimes up to 16 hours a day. It's priceless."