Vandals set fire to a giant wooden sculpture of the town's namesake bird early Saturday morning in Phoenixville, barely 16 hours before it was to have been burned in a ceremony at the borough's annual Firebird Festival, officials said.
But taking their cue from the mythological lore of the phoenix, volunteers rallied to rebuild a smaller version of the winged figure in time for the annual event.
The replacement wooden phoenix was ignited shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday while hundreds watched, despite the daylong rain.
The community was undeterred by the vandalism, said Phoenixville resident Clint Weiler, because the festival is "a trademark of our town."
"Nobody was really talking about it, but just moving forward," Weiler said. He said the day was still "pretty positive, actually."
Firefighters received a call about the burning structure about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, said Deputy Fire Chief Brian Gallagher. No injuries were reported, but the bird, in Friendship Field on Fillmore Street, could not be saved.
Police are trying to determine who set fire to the structure, which stood at least 30 feet high.
Henrik Stubbe Teglbjaerg, one of the organizers of the festival who leads the effort to build the bird each year, could not be reached Saturday.
But a post on the festival's Facebook page Saturday morning that he apparently wrote indicated frustration mixed with resilience.
"I don't know what to say. Somebody burned down the bird!" the poster wrote before 6 a.m. Saturday morning. "Everything is ready for the festival, I say [let's] still have it. What do you think?"
By midmorning, residents had dropped off so many donations of wood to rebuild the bird organizers finally announced they did not need any more.
Jeff Kenney of Phoenixville, who volunteered to help build the new bird, said between 50 and 100 people were at the scene throughout the day.
Some residents donated wood; others brought food and coffee, Kenney said. He called the effort inspirational.
"It was kind of like . . . 'What are you going to do?' " he said.
The new structure was significantly smaller than the phoenix that was destroyed early Saturday morning.
Volunteers had worked during several weekends beginning in September to build this year's firebird.
The annual one-day festival includes live music, crafts, and food vendors. It culminates in the burning of the phoenix to celebrate the namesake of the Chester County borough.
As the festival continued, police said they hoped someone with information about the vandalism would speak up.
"There's not much as clues go - everything burnt," said Sgt. David Gold of the Phoenixville Police Department. "We're hoping as the night goes on somebody will say something."