A Long Beach, California, lifeguard tower painted in the colors of the Pride flag to honor the city’s LGBTQ+ community was destroyed by fire early Tuesday morning. According to a report in the Press Telegram, firefighters responded to the scene on the beach around midnight to find the Pride Lifeguard Tower fully engulfed in flames. The cause of the blaze is currently under investigation, but local leaders believe arson may be to blame.
“Last night, our PRIDE lifeguard station that was painted by LGBTQ+ lifeguards, burned down,” the city’s out Mayor Robert Garcia tweeted yesterday. While noting fire officials are currently investigating the blaze, the mayor said he had “little doubt this was an act of hate.”
“The tower served as a symbol of our strong support for diversity within our ranks and the LGBTQ community who call Long Beach home,” Gonzalo Medina, the marine safety chief for Long Beach, said in a statement, also noting the tower “will be replaced and repainted by lifeguards.”
The Pride Lifeguard Tower was constructed of steel and fiberglass, a combination that one expert said makes it difficult to catch fire accidently. Dave Stollery, the chief executive officer of Industrial Design Research, which manufactured and sold some fiberglass lifeguard towers to the city, told the Long Beach Post he’d never heard of a fiberglass lifeguard tower burning in his 30 years in the industry.
“Fiberglass is not a particularly flammable material,” Stollery explained.
Witnesses told authorities the fire burned fiercely, and the tower was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived. They could do little but douse the flames that had destroyed the tower. One witness tweeted video of the blaze, showing the lone tower ablaze as workers and officials looked on helplessly.
Mayor Garcia is seen by many as a rising star in the Democrat Party, and he was a featured speaker at last year’s Democrat National Convention. Some believed he had a shot of replacing Vice President Kamala Harris as one of California's representatives in the Senate making him the first out gay person to hold the role. He and others noted the towers are used at night by youth and the homeless to party or sleep, but quickly brushed away suggestions this was anything but an act of hate given that the structure isn't easily burned. He also said he thinks the selection of the only LGBTQ+-themed lifeguard tower on the beach “makes it abundantly clear that this was done by folks that don’t believe in the rights” of the queer community in his city.
The mayor also had a defiant message for those responsible for the blaze.
“To whoever committed this act,” Garcia tweeted, “we will rebuild it better and brighter.”