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Fire destroys building at Wichita’s shuttered Joyland amusement park

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, May 24, 2013, at 6:36 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, June 16, 2014, at 2:38 p.m.

Wichita fire crews on Friday battled a blaze in a two-story building that housed offices and the skee-ball games at Joyland, the city’s defunct amusement park.

Sedgwick County Dispatch received the first reports of the fire at 5:56 p.m., a supervisor said. A caller reported seeing “lots of black smoke coming from the gate” while driving by the park, 2801 S. Hillside, according to a dispatcher.

When firefighters arrived, they found the upper-floor of the building “fully engulfed in flames,” Deputy Fire Chief Tammy Snow said at the scene.

A search of the first floor turned up no one, Snow said. Firefighters retreated to protect surrounding buildings after they noticed the stairway leading to the abandoned, second-floor offices consumed by flames, she said.

The cause of the fire and an estimate of damages remained undetermined Friday evening. The fire had mostly burned out by 8, leaving a charred skeleton in its wake. Snow said crews would remain overnight to douse flare ups.

Earlier in the evening, a firefighters asked onlookers to move away from a fence enclosing the park. Before a police officer was called to block the park’s entrance, several drivers had parked on the grounds to watch the building burn.

A Facebook post from a friend drew Cherrie Poncin to the fire Friday evening.

Beside her, her 1-year-old granddaughter Aavrie sat nestled in her mother’s arms. The toddler pointed to the flames and chimed, “Uh-oh!”

“Just the state of Joyland, period, makes me so sad," Poncin said, recalling trips to the amusement park both as a child and with her own children.

Gesturing to her granddaughter, she added: "We had so much hope it would be restored so we could bring her here, too."

“I feel like now with the fire it might not happen,” said 22-year-old Chelsea Poncin, the toddler’s mother.

Amanda Johnson, 21, said she was heartbroken seeing the flames.

“When I was growing up, it (Joyland) was the only fun thing to do,” she said, shaking her head.

As the building burned, billowing black smoke lightened to gray. Around 7:30 p.m., park owner Margaret Spear, who bought the 40-acre park in the 1970s with her late husband Stan Nelson, walked carefully around bright yellow fire hoses and away from the engulfed structure. She then drove away with family.

Joyland has been a target for vandals and arsonists since its closure in 2006. In August, a fire allegedly set by four teens in a maintenance building caused $15,000 in damage; another arson fire destroyed a building in 2011.

The park is currently up for sale. A local nonprofit dubbed Restore Hope is actively raising funds with the hope of purchasing and revitalizing Joyland.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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