Large Fire at Chowchilla Fairgrounds

March 13, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Firefighters are still knocking out hot spots at the Chowchilla fairgrounds. Just before 4 a.m. Friday morning, the Clarke Auditorium went up in flames.Firefighters are still here keeping an eye on the smoldering remains of the auditorium and cleaning up what's left. You can see it's not much at this point, just some support beams and crumbed brick. They're estimating the loss at about $2-million dollars.

Fire officials said the blaze started just after 3 o' clock Friday morning. The police department arrived first, followed by the city volunteer fire department, Calfire, and firefighters from the Chowchilla women's prison. But the building was so engulfed in flames that they focused on protecting surrounding buildings rather than trying to save the auditorium.

This was the largest building here at the fairgrounds at more than 9,600 square feet. It was used for weddings, meetings, fundraisers, and was a key part of the Chowchilla Madera County Fair.

Fair managers said they're hoping to at least have the debris cleared out and a large tent in place for this year's fair, which starts May 14th. Meanwhile, fire officials are trying to determine whether or not this fire was intentionally set.

"Because this is such a key building for the community, we did call an arson investigator, although we don't necessarily suspect arson at this time, we will investigate it to make sure we cover all our basis," said Chowchilla City Fire Chief Harry Turner.

Fire officials are also investigating another fire in this building from last week. They said a storage room went up in flames, and they do believe that fire may have been a case of arson. But they will treat the two fires as separate investigations.

Fair managers said the Clarke Auditorium typically held 600 to 700 people at a time, but could hold more than 1,300. It was not only the largest meeting room here at the fairgrounds, but also for the city. So it is certainly a significant loss for this community.

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