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Vandals roast duck

A patch of scorched grass on Wednesday morning marked the last spot where a 25-foot-tall inflatable duck once stood only hours before.

Authorities are still trying to determine who ignited the air-filled duck, part of a promotion for the Silverdale Rotary Club’s 11th annual Great Kitsap Duck Race, at approximately 10 p.m. Tuesday behind the Curves for Women fitness center on Ridgetop Boulevard.

Firefighters from Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue arrived on the scene shortly after it was reported, only to find the fire had already been extinguished by persons unknown, according to CKFR spokeswoman Lindsy Ingram. The duck was dragged away from the fire site, a lump of melted and charred yellow, red and black rubber. There were reports of kids seen in the area prior to the fire.

The incident was a shock to duck race supporters and organizers who hope someone calls the Arson Hotline at 1-800-435-2377 or Kitsap County deputy fire marshal Ed Iskra at (360) 337-7183 with information that leads to the perpetrators.

“We’re very disappointed,” said event chairman Steve Slaton. “It represents a community event for many years in Silverdale. And when you get away from the community aspect, we have to replace the duck.”

A spokeswoman for Paramount Promotions, Inc., the Phoenix, Ariz.-based company who constructed the inflatable, said it was very unusual to hear of one of its custom inflatables being damaged.

“I’ve never heard of one being torched,” she said.

This isn’t the first time a Silverdale duck has been the target of vandals. In 2002, a duck in front of what is now American Marine Bank on Silverdale Way had to be patched up after someone shot at it a number of times with blowdarts. In 2003, the Rotary Club spent $800 to patch up another duck after it was shot at by a gun.

“Absolutely horrible,” said Phil Gordon, vice-president of events for Great American Merchandise and Events (GAME) who created the sunglasses-wearing duck race and supplies the Silverdale event with tens of thousands of ducks. “We’ve never heard of having a balloon burn down.”

Neither the Rotary Club or the duck’s owner, Olympic Memorial Hospital Foundation in Port Angeles, reportedly had the inflatables insured for loss or damage.

“We always take it down at night because it’s too tempting a target,” said George Hill, director of operations for the foundation. “I never thought someone would burn it. I always feared someone would take it.”

The foundation, which owned two ducks they purchased from GAME at a cost of an estimated $6,500 each and loaned to the Silverdale Rotary for the past six years, has had a strict policy of taking the ducks down at night and putting them back up each morning. Hill said the foundation’s duck race organizers coincidentally met on the same night the duck was torched and were pondering a policy change to keep the ducks up all night. He said that’s been scrapped in light of recent events.

“Never in a million years would I have thought someone would burn it,” Hill said. “The fact is to torch it is that they have to get out of the car and actually ignite it is not something you’d expect.”

He hoped that the foundation could buy a used inflatable from GAME in time to promote its May 2005 duck race in Port Angeles.

The Silverdale Rotary Club is one of only two organizations the foundation loans its ducks out to. A third duck was loaned to the club from a Tri-Cities organization.

“What’s worst thing about the situation is that it comes out of their bottom line and that costs money that should be going back into the community,” Gordon said. “Silverdale is one of our more successful races and they’ve done great over the years.”

The Great Kitsap Duck Race has its overhead covered by sponsors with most of the proceeds going back to the community coming from selling ducks for $5 each.

“We’ve given away about $1,000,000 in services and money as a result of the duck race in Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties,” according to race founder Hank Mann-Sykes.

Among the groups benefitted include the Red Cross, Kitsap Humane Society, Kitsap Community Action Program, Hospice of Kitsap County, Holly Ridge Center, youth sports programs, Project Family, Kitsap Family YMCA and the Literacy Council. The Rotary Club also used duck race funds to build Rotary Gateway Park, the Olympic College Library, the skateboard park in Silverdale and provide electricity for the Silverdale Community Christmas Tree.

“Even young people realize you don’t attack the duck race because it benefits everybody,” Slaton said. “I’m sure no one did it to get at the duck race.”

“Out of all things for a charity event, someone is out there with a sick mind,” Gordon said. “Maybe someone will step up locally and help these guys out.”

Ducks are selling well for the Silverdale race which is July 25 at Silverdale Waterfront Park as part of the Whaling Days celebration.

“Sales have been picking up the past couple of weeks,” Slaton said in part to the visibility of the inflatable ducks which have been shuttled around to a number of duck race sponsors.

“I feel awful for those guys,” Hill said. “They’ve got better things to do with their money than pay for replacing a duck.”

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