Historic lifeguard tower in Newport Beach burns to the ground, police looking for suspects

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- A piece of beach history goes up in flames. Someone burned down the historic lifeguard tower at the Wedge in Newport Beach.

And now, arson investigators are looking at Surfline video, which may show who and how the fire started.

Even when surfers aren't trying to catch monster waves at the Wedge in Newport Beach, you can always find a crowd at the famous surf spot.

"We're an iconic part of the Southern California, especially this area, Newport Beach," says Patricia Goheen, a frequent Wedge visitor. "I've known about it since I was a small child."

But now, something's missing.

All that's left of one of the busiest lifeguard towers in the area are a few pieces of burnt wood.

A camera from Surfline captured the flames engulfing the tower, and two people who appear to be trying to spark it. Arson investigators are now looking into the exact cause.

"It was a purposeful act from what I can see in the video," says Newport Beach Fire Department Chief Lifeguard Mile Halphide. "For us, it's just another challenge."

Lifeguards estimate the cost to replace the tower will be about $15,000. It also comes at a bad time, as summer staffing begins on Saturday.

"That's money that we could spend on other things that we'll have to re-direct toward the lifeguard tower," Chief Halphide explains.

If there is a silver lining to this fire, it's what was saved. One of the wood beams, though badly charred, remains intact. Carved into it are the names of lifeguards and surfers who loved the thrill of the Wedge's big waves, and who have now passed.

"Chris Atencio and Ben Carlson and several other people who have passed away untimely, just a way to respect and honor them," Chief Halphide explains.

"It's really very sad," Goheen says. "It's sad for the surf community, sad for all of us that live in Southern California," Goheen says.

Until they can rebuild, lifeguards will monitor the Wedge on foot or in their trucks, possibly even moving another tower down.
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