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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Water Tenders assist firefight


Gridley duck lodge destroyed by fire

GRIDLEY — The main building at a family-owned ranch west of Gridley, used primarily for duck hunting, was destroyed by fire Wednesday.

Owner Louis Ratto said the building, a former duck hunting lodge built in the 1920s, was a two-story, wood-framed structure of about 5,500 square feet.

It was reportedly empty when a caretaker for the property called in the fire at 11:46 a.m.

Three engine companies from the Gridley Fire Department and Cal Fire-Butte County stations in Oroville battled the flames for more than an hour.

Battalion Chief Russ Fowler said it took about 15 minutes for the first engine company to reach the remote location, off West Liberty Road on the northern edge of the Gray Lodge State Wildlife Area.

Fowler said the building was engulfed when the first engine arrived. "The roof had already collapsed, and the walls caved in soon after that," he said.

Fowler said a northwest wind blowing at up to 15 mph helped fan flames, and blew around embers that threatened as many as 10 other smaller structures on the property.

Three outbuildings partially burned, but firefighters were able to keep damage to a minimum. One, just feet from the old lodge, caught fire from radiated heat. Fire in the two others was caused by flying embers, Fowler said.

Fire inspector Todd Price said Ratto was relieved that firefighters also saved a large barn containing several four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Wednesday afternoon, Price said he had placed the loss to the structures at $300,000. "The lodge was fully furnished, and contained a lot of mementos you really can't put a price on," he said.

The structure was a second home for the Rattos, who live most of the year in Sonoma County.

The cause of the blaze remained under investigation Wednesday night. Price said he had ruled out any intentional cause and was concentrating on wiring and heaters in the building.

Fowler said the building appeared to be supplied by natural gas, but several propane tanks were also found inside.

With no fire hydrants on the property, Fowler said crews were initially forced to pump water out of an irrigation canal to supply fire hoses. He said three water tenders, two of them from volunteer companies, later arrived.

Power lines that had fallen away from the building, and may have been energized, posed an extra challenge for fire crews, Fowler said.

No one was hurt, and a home occupied by a caretaker for the property was untouched.

A family staying overnight in a cabin on the property was driven out by heavy smoke. Black plumes of smoke could be seen from as far away as Chico and Yuba City.

Ratto said the property, which he and his father, Jim Ratto, bought about six years ago, is insured.

Source: Article