Charred branches on the Washington Park Christmas tree, which someone set on fire hours after a tree-lighting ceremony. Credit: Provided

WASHINGTON PARK — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office is helping a South Side business group replace its community Christmas tree, which someone set on fire over the weekend.

The 40-foot artificial tree at Martin Luther King Drive and Garfield Boulevard was torched early Sunday morning, leaving one side of it charred hours after a tree lighting ceremony. Someone also tore up a banner in front of the tree, part of a holiday display organized by the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier in the day, volunteers with My Block, My Hood, My City strung up Christmas lights along a 12-mile stretch of King Drive before finishing their day at the Washington Park tree lighting.

After Block Club wrote about the tree Sunday, a member of Lightfoot’s staff contacted Chamber CEO Donna Hampton-Smith to offer help. Hampton-Smith said Monday the city is working with the chamber and My Block My Hood My City to replace the tree. It’s due to be installed this weekend somewhere with a camera nearby, Hampton-Smith said, in hopes of warding off repeated vandalism.

Hampton-Smith told Block Club she appreciates the city’s gesture. The idea for the tree was to ensure South Siders had holiday decorations to appreciate in their own neighborhood, and she did not want the attack to deter their efforts.

“The intent was to have a tree until after the holidays,” Hampton-Smith said. “We will not be defeated.”

A spokesperson for Lightfoot declined comment. Police are investigating.

The Washington Park group has set up a tree for the past three years and, every year, someone has destroyed it. Someone mowed it down in 2019 and neighborhood organizers were unable to replace it. In separate incidents last year, someone ripped the banner then burned the tree shortly after Christmas.

Surveillance footage from the King Drive Mini-Mart, 368 E. Garfield Blvd. — provided to Block Club by Hampton-Smith — shows someone walking past the illuminated tree early Sunday morning. About 35 seconds later, several of the lights on the tree appear to switch off.

YouTube video

The images are grainy but around the 3-minute mark, flames can be seen erupting from the far side of the tree.

By the time Chicago police were alerted around 5 a.m. Sunday, the artificial tree was already engulfed in flames. Firefighters put out the fire shortly after.

Crews removed the damaged tree Monday, leaving behind only its wire frame.

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