'Suspicious' fire damages Ellicott City theme park


Fire officials are investigating a blaze that caused $40,000 damage Tuesday to Cinderella's Castle in the Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City.

The fire at the theme park is being labeled suspicious, said Bob Thomas, deputy chief of the State Fire Marshal's Office. "We have not yet concluded it was arson."

Thomas said the fire, which started in the roof of the three-story building, was reported at about 1 a.m. It destroyed a 15-by-15 section of the roof, which collapsed. The damage extended to the first floor.

Thirty-five firefighters brought the blaze under control at 1:30 a.m. before it could spread to other structures, said Battalion Chief Donald Howell, county fire department spokesman. There were no injuries.

Yesterday morning, a pile of charred debris remained outside the gray building, which is between Snow White's Cottage and the Gingerbread House.

The fire is the second in just more than two years at the U.S. 40 theme park. In January 1990, an arsonist used a flammable liquid to set fire to Robin Hood's Barn, destroying the structure and causing $75,000 in damage.

Standing with arms crossed under yesterday's cloudy sky, owner Jeffrey S. Pechter looked at the damaged castle and said he plans to hire security guards.

"We'll do whatever we have to do to prevent a reoccurrence," said Pechter, whose family bought the theme park for $4.5 million in 1988. "We're committed to restoring the Enchanted Forest."

This fire hurts more than the first, he said. Robin Hood's Barn had been slated for destruction anyway, but workers had completed 25 percent of restoration work to Cinderella's Castle so it could be part of the fairy tale theme park's reopening next summer.

Pechter said he's not sure when Cinderella's Castle will be open to the public.

"We may open next summer without that attraction," he said.

The park was scheduled to reopen this summer, but workers underestimated the time required to restore the park's nursery rhyme buildings, Pechter said.

Earlier this year, the 136,000-square-foot Enchanted Forest Shopping Center opened, anchored by Safeway.

As part of its renaissance, the newly restored carousel will open today, and in July a new 8,000-square-foot Family Funjungle will open. Pechter described it as a seasonal indoor entertainment center for the family. The park originally opened in 1954 as an attraction for children under age 8.

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