In a bizarre, and weirdly coincidental incident early Wednesday, the abandoned clubhouse at the embattled, highly controversial, Escondido Country Club burned to the ground.
Karma, natural disaster, accident or even arson, the shuttered clubhouse at the property that has been the center of years of development controversy burned, baby, burned to the ground beginning just before 5:30 a.m., Escondido fire Battalion Chief Art Holcomb said.
The fire this time was a two-alarm conflagration that proved a stubborn opponent of the 10 engines, three trucks, three ambulances and three battalion chiefs, which were dispatched to the scene. Fire crews used ladder trucks to dump water on the big, bad burning boy from above.
“They went into a defensive strategy based on the amount of fire at the clubhouse when they got on scene,” said Escondido Fire Capt. Ty Lindberg. He said fire crews remained outside the building and doused it with water to extinguish the flames.
The Escondido Police Department, according to Holcombe, established and staffed several road closures that were necessary to protect fire hose and water supply lines. In addition, Escondido Public Works and Fleet Services assisted with the overhaul of the building by providing heavy equipment and logistical support. Support vehicles and personnel were also deployed to mitigate the water run-off from the fire scene.
The “Country Club Fire,” as it was “named” by Holcombe, was contained and extinguished in approximately 12 hours and there were no injuries to firefighters or civilians. Fire crews were on scene much of Wednesday knocking down the flames, mopping up the aftermath and investigating the cause.
Still under investigation on Thanksgiving, it should be noted the fire erupted on what was a record-breaking day of heat in Escondido and the rest of San Diego County.
Electricity to the clubhouse has been shut off for a number of years and the property has been the subject of great concern in the neighborhood because teens, drug addicts and transients have broken in and used the abandoned property.
Escondido Fire Chief Rick Vogt said there have been several much-smaller fires in the past few years inside the clubhouse. Most were restricted to the fireplace where transients presumably had started a fire to keep warm at night.
The 12,000-square-foot clubhouse, built in 1964, once housed a restaurant and bar, two banquet rooms and a golf pro shop. It had fallen into disrepair in recent years and graffiti stained the walls surrounding the empty swimming pool.
The fire was first reported by a neighbor, Escondido Fire spokesman Jeff Murdoch said. No one was seen running from the blaze, he said.
Smoke from the fire could be seen for miles Wednesday morning. Murdoch said residents who live near the country club were advised to stay indoors to avoid inhaling the smoke, which can often contain toxic materials during a structure fire.
Coincidence or providence, by design or by the hand of God, the fire engulfing the clubhouse for two hours occurred about a week after the Escondido city council voted 3-2 to allow a housing project, known as “The Villages,” to proceed with 380 new homes built on the 109 acres of the abandoned golf course and country club.
Residents of the development that has seen costly litigation, endured a citywide vote on the development question and even witnessed a former developer’s dumping of horse — sorry, chicken — manure over the club grounds to make some kind of point.
The latest development plan was fiercely opposed by many residents, including a coalition of about 300 neighbors who live near the golf course who are plotting a legal challenge to fight the city’s decision.
The country club was closed about five years ago after Beverly Hills businessman Michael Schlesinger bought the property in 2012. Under the project approved last week, Schlesinger will sell the property to developer New Urban West and that company will build “The Villages” tract.
Miles Grimes, a member of a neighborhood group that has been in favor of the property being developed, issued a statement:
“We are grateful to our first responders who quickly got this under control. Fortunately, no one was injured. The abandoned clubhouse has been attracting crime and vagrants for years now. It is critical we move forward with the redevelopment plans … our neighborhood deserves to be safe again.”
Schlesinger has faced opposition at several San Diego County sites where he purchased golf courses with plans to develop housing projects there. Earlier this month, voters in Poway resoundingly rejected a ballot measure which would have allowed Schlesinger to build 180 luxury condominiums at the StoneRidge County Club.
Poway’s Measure A was defeated 62 percent to 38 percent, and the next day Schlesinger followed through on threats he made before the election to close the facility.