The brave firefighters of Engine 163 put out smoldering fires, in what appears to be a serious and planned arson attempt of our beloved forest, in the Royal Oaks section of Clove Lakes Park Sunday afternoon, as families and joggers enjoyed their day in the park, unaware that a potential explosion was about to let loose.
Three firefighters walked into the woods and were able to put out the fires with a fire extinguisher and a canister filled with water. The firetruck waited at the top of the trail, just in case hoses of water became a necessity.
The scene was weird: An enclosure of wire fencing, shopping bags hanging all around the fence at intervals, with something inside each bag. There were empty drink cans squirreled away in various spots, like the hollow of a tree stump. A flat-surfaced, squat felled tree was covered with a green and purple Easter egg pattern of what appeared to be wrapping paper, as though transformed into a sitting bench for a pleasant Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps this was a homeless person’s vision of a sort-of retreat in the woods, making the best of circumstances, as it were. LED string lights surrounded the impromptu “room” like a crown, with a light-up Shamrock decoration nailed to a tree, blessing the scene with good luck. A printed sticker emblazoned with the phrase “I [marijuana leaf] Me” was also affixed to a tree.
But that wasn’t all that was there. This seemingly innocent spot was hiding death and destruction, vipers ready to strike the unaware. What at first glance seemed like a small fire surrounded by rocks, perhaps where someone was heating up a can of Campbell’s Soup, was actually a ticking time bomb. Upon closer inspection, a battery with its outer casing starting to melt, surrounded by smoldering leaves, covered by thick wood and rocks over that, indicated that something was not quite right.
It gets worse from there. Way worse. A taller tree stump over five feet tall was also smoldering, and there was a metal rod going into the tree where the smoldering was, at the bottom oxidized from the heat, terminating at its top with a rock that an inverted acetone can sat on, with its True Value label still affixed, likely purchased at the small hardware store just down Victory Boulevard.
Looking at this madness, it seems that the only reason the arsonist(s) failed was that everything was still too damp to really ignite and stay lit, as it had been raining heavily in recent days. Even so, it’s clear that whomever was behind this was intent on burning down Royal Oaks, or at least a section of the park. And, perhaps they were of a sadistic bent and made it look inviting so that someone might come closer and end up as a casualty.
On Sunday, September 17th, at about 2:30 PM, two Staten Islander staffers arrived at Clove Lakes Park. Both had earlier covered the charity girls softball tournament at Midland Beach sponsored by Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Tunnel to Towers is a charity that was created in memory of firefighter Stephen Siller, and helps military and law enforcement families, as well as disabled veterans – a truly noble cause.
The staffers next went to investigate a story in Egbertville. During their walking conversation, the topic became pitching, as the girls in the tournament at Midland Beach pitched underhand, but very fast. One of the staffers explained that they pitched sidearm since they were a kid, and referenced ’80s Kansas City Royals pitcher Dan Quisenberry, famous for his distinctive sidearm sinker.
So, they threw around a wiffle ball for a few minutes, but then decided to venture to Clove Lakes and play catch on the field where there was more space. Once they arrived, the staffers instead decided to go walking on the trails.
This is an account from one of the staffers:
“Initially, I thought this was a homeless encampment. I’ve been going in the woods since the ’90s, and it’s not uncommon for someone to set up a home in the park. Sometimes they have a tent, other times they create lean-tos. Usually the Parks Department gets rid of them, if they’re located in an easy-to-find place. This “camp” was about fifteen feet or so into the woods adjacent to a side trail that cuts between two trails, which is off a well-used paved main trail that goes to the Stonehouse Inn at the bottom of the hill.
“Initially, we were going to pass by without inspecting further, because, well…if it’s someone’s home, they might not want us intruding in their living room. We saw smoke rising from what appeared to be a fire with rocks around it. That’s illegal, but it happens, so it wasn’t so unusual. But what was strange was it looked like the tree itself seemed to be smoking, too! No one seemed around, so we went closer to get a better look.
“At first, we didn’t realize what we were even looking at. It looked bizarre, definitely, but encampments often are. It registered when I noticed there was an acetone can over one of the smoldering spots. So then we looked at the other spot more carefully, and upon closer inspection, there was definitely what appeared to be batteries buried under the smoldering leaves. So, we called the fire department, took some photos as well as a short video, and got out of there as fast as we could to get to the street to guide the firefighters to the spot once they arrived. I’m happy it didn’t blow up, especially when we decided to go closer.”
As you can see in the video, Firefighter Klipp stated that it looks like someone with a mental disorder set up this strange scene. He asked if the park-goers had seen any kids hanging out around the area, and they replied in the negative, as they had just arrived. One of the firefighters even asked if they had done it, to which they again replied in the negative, obviously. With no witnesses to the crime, the firefighters removed the acetone, batteries, and one of the shopping bags as evidence.
Staten Islanders, if you see something, say something. Don’t wait for the next person to get involved. It may cost someone their life. What if the fire had gone up? Firefighters would have to risk their lives fighting a blazing forest. Joggers might have gotten hit with shrapnel from the can of acetone. Moms with babies in strollers might have gotten singed with burning debris thrown by the explosion of the batteries. And as for wildlife, their homes would have been destroyed.
Don’t be afraid to be curious. Please remember that it just takes a second to check out something that doesn’t seem right, and it’s not minding other people’s business to make sure we are all safe.
Banner Image: Video cover. Image Credit – Staten Islander News