Watsonville Fire Capt. Fernando Tapiz shows trails of hand prints in a soot-covered wall Tuesday where residents followed the walls through heavy smoke toward an exit during Monday evening's fire at the Stag Hotel. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula).
WATSONVILLE — A team of fire investigators pored through the charred interior of the Stag Hotel early Tuesday where a two-alarm fire ripped through the two-story building Monday at 5:45 p.m.
By Tuesday afternoon no cause had been determined in the fire that injured 11 people, four seriously. Several of the residents in the all men facility were forced to leap from their windows to escape the intense buildup of smoke and heat. Some residents suffered third degree burns and had the hair on their heads, faces and arms singed. Three residents were flown by air ambulance to out-of-county trauma centers.
“I was asleep when suddenly my window blew out and I was showered with glass,” said Steve DeViga, 62, who has lived at the Stag for two years. “All at once there was black smoke everywhere. I just jumped out the window since the glass was gone. Outside I found my friend on the ground so I helped him get away from the building. I was burned a little bit but now I just want my shoes. I’m walking around in my socks.”
DeViga said the Red Cross put him up at the Motel 6 in Watsonville.
“I’m not sure how long they’ll be around to help,” he said.
The Stag Hotel, at 117 West Beach St., was built in 1927 by the railroad company and once served as living quarters for rail workers, said Russ Rickman, who has been the manager at the Stag since 1990. The Stag is comprised of two buildings but the fire was limited to the main front building that has 50 rooms. Only two of those rooms were vacant, Rickman said.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “I had just stepped out to get a sandwich at Subway around the corner. When I came back the place was on fire.”
Ernie Araiza said he has owned the building for the past nine years.
"The building is definitely fixable and right now, that is what I hope to do," he said. "I'm meeting with the City and my insurance agent to start the rebuilding process. There's a lot of demolition that will have to be done. The main thing is I want to get these people back into their homes."
Watsonville Fire Marshal Rob Ryan said the investigation began on the first floor in the common area where chairs and a sofa, a television and a soft drink machine once stood.
Watsonville Fire Capt. Pablo Barreto, who said his crew was the first to arrive at the blaze, said he immediately bumped the response up to a second alarm, which prompted another wave of fire departments outside the area to respond.
There were flames coming out the front window about 20 feet into the street,” Barreto said. “It was really going by the time we got here.”
Several residents suffered broken bones and bruising as they leaped to safety from the burning structure. Many of them had their faces blackened with soot.
Numerous officers from the Salinas Police Gang Task Force happened to be in the area at the time of the fire. Several of the officers played key roles in rescues and with aiding firefighters in hauling our fire hoses and directly attacking flames.
The fire is just blocks away on West Beach Street from the Apple Growers Ice & Cold Storage business where a four-alarm blaze gutted most of the historic building in April 2011. No injuries were reported in that fire but about $5 million worth of product, including hundreds of pallets of bottled Martinelli juices and stored bins of apples were destroyed. The fire was caused by work being down by roofers at the back of the 1928 structure.
In January 2005, a five alarm fire, the largest structure fire in Santa Cruz County, caused major damage to the Wall Street Inn, which is just kitty-corner to the Stag Hotel on West Beach Street. Originally built as the Hotel Appleton in 1911 by famed architect William Weeks, the fire destroyed or damaged many of the rooms and forced the four-story inn to be shuttered for years to rebuild. That fire was attributed to a cigarette that lit a mattress on fire. The Wall Street Inn has since reopened and all the previous residents, and businesses on the ground floor, were given first access at their previous dwellings.
Share on Facebook
stag hotel, fire