HISTORY GOES UP IN FLAMES

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Posted by Mark Lewis on June 11, 2016

Posted by T. Drew Mashburn (with use of Mark Lewis’ password) on June 11, 2016

HISTORY GOES UP IN FLAMES — Loss of 111 year-old building may total more than $3 million

by Lenny Roberts and Chris Wilson (Ojai Valley News on November 28, 2001)

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Dozens of firetrucks lined Thacher Road Saturday afternoon, while their tenders battled a blaze in futility.

One of Ojai’s most treasured buildings was described as a total loss by Ventura County fire officials Saturday following a spectacular, two alarm fire.

The five-unit complex in the 4200 block of Thacher Road, built as Dr. Ernest Pierpont’s family home 111 years ago, which later became a hotel, was reduced to rubble as the result of an unattended candle, according to Ventura County Fire Press Information Officer Joe Luna.

A private fire investigator, working for the homeowner’s insurance company at the scene Monday, would not comment officially, but did say it was premature to blame the fire on a candle and some evidence suggested faulty wiring could have been the cause.

Luna said the fire was first reported at 2:15 p.m., and took 45 firefighters from Ventura’s county and city fire departments nearly two hours to knock down.

As a column of smoke and flames billowed into the air, neighbors and onlookers wandered through the orange and avocado trees and gazed at the burning home. Firefighters hosed high-pressure water at flames that shot through the roof, shattered antique windows with axes to let heat escape and sloshed through a lake of foam that puddled in the circular drive at the front of the crackling structure.

Because of the intense heat, Luna explained, “The fire quickly picked up momentum, and they couldn’t enter the building, so they fought it from the outside. This was a total loss, unfortunately, of an old wooden structure.”

Firefighters, aided by a steady rain, prevented the fire from spreading through the trees to other homes on the property.

Luna said that the woman who lived in the apartment where the fire started was, “very remorseful and concerned that her neighbors have no place to stay,” and that a search of the rubble revealed no sign of her three missing cats.

When the fire began, only two occupants were present, and both have been provided temporary housing at an Ojai motel by the Ventura Chapter of the American Red Cross, according to spokesman Clarence Sterling.

A list of the names of those who were not home at the time, provided by Mary and Phillip Pierpont, was given to Red Cross officials.

The Craftsman-style shingle and local stone building was converted from a hotel into appartment in the mid-1940’s, Phillip Pierpont said at the scene.

Longfaced, the Pierponts, who live in an adjacent home, stood on a driveway to the north of the cottages and watched the fire. Their home nearby was unharmed.

“We’re watching 111 years of history go up in smoke,” Mary Pierpont said.

One of the cottage residents, psychotherapist Stella Resnick, was in Los Angeles when she heard about the fire.

“We went up on Sunday and crossed the yellow tape to see if we could retrieve anything,” Resnick said by e-mail.

“Our dear friends Morgan and Kate helped us wade through the heaps of wet rubble, fallen beams and roof tiles, and burnt furniture. We were able to find some items and carried them to safety. Most of the art on the walls and antique furniture are gone. So, too, is a big investment of time and money and an entire year of putting together a home. Unfortunately, we had no insurance on anything.”

Jamie Roth of the Ojai School of Massage said community members who wish to donate clothing items to the displaced residents can do so through the school. Call her at 640-9798.

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