ESCONDIDO — One of the centerpieces of a controversial development project was destroyed in a two-alarm fire on Nov. 22.
The blaze broke out at 5:20 a.m. at the Escondido Country Club and took more than 12 hours to contain and extinguish, Escondido Fire spokesman Jeff Murdock said. Due to a lack of resources, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will analyze evidence from the site, but results could take weeks, Murdock added.
Escondido will still conduct the investigation, but the ATF will act in a support role to process and analyze evidence from the scene.
“ATF has taken some stuff to the lab and we, unfortunately, don’t expect any results back for at least a month or so,” Murdock said.
The intensity of the blaze prevented firefighters from entering the building when they arrived on scene. Walls and the ceiling collapsed, so units from Escondido, Vista, San Marcos, Carlsbad and Rancho Santa Fe had to fight the fire from the outside and couldn’t dose it with water until an opening in the roof was discovered, Murdock said.
Murdock said no injuries or other damage to nearby buildings was reported.
“It was called in by a neighbor who saw the fire,” he added. “We basically had to let it burn through the roof before we could get water on the inside. It was a total loss.”
Murdock said the conditions allowed for the smoke to settle in the area, and the department even received calls from residents thinking a separate fire had started.
“The biggest concern during the fire was smoke,” he added. “What they were seeing was the smoke settling from this fire.”
The 12,000-square-foot clubhouse was abandoned four years after a bitter dispute between residents of the Escondido Country Club and property owner Michael Schlesinger, who wanted to develop the land with hundreds of homes.
The site is also the subject of a controversial development project recently passed by the City Council on Nov. 15 and is slated for 380 homes by developer New Urban West. According to media reports, several residents are questioning the timing of the fire.
Mike Slater, president of the Escondido Country Club Homeowners, who has lead the fight against development plans for years, said in a media interview the fire was a low blow.
“Kick to the belly,” he told NBC7. “It’s like a low punch. A sucker punch as they say.”
Another group, Renew Our Country Club, supports New Urban West’s plan and one of their founding members, Miles Grimes, posted a statement to the group’s Facebook page.
“We are grateful to our first responders who quickly got this under control. Fortunately, no one was injured,” he said. “The abandoned clubhouse has been attracting crime and vagrants for years now. It is critical we move forward with the redevelopment plans without any further delays from ECCHO or anyone else. Our neighborhood deserves to be safe again.”