Fire Ravages Historic Calif. Wharf
Nov. 20, 1998
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ The charred ruins of a 300-foot section of historic Stearns Wharf smoldered Thursday after an overnight inferno caused up to $11 million in damage.
The blaze rapidly engulfed the midsection of the nearly 2,000-foot-long wooden pier. Flames were visible for miles in the night sky.
``This is massively traumatic for Santa Barbara.'' said 18-year resident John Hunt. ``There's a lot of good memories out there, a lot of walks with friends and family.''
The blaze, fueled by timbers treated with creosote, a flammable chemical used to protect against salt water, destroyed two restaurants and a bait-and-tackle shop.
Stearns Wharf was built in 1872 by lumber company owner J.P. Stearns as a place where he could offload his materials. In the 1930s, gamblers boarded floating casinos there, and during World War II it was used as a naval installation.
Featuring shops and restaurants and offering a commanding view of the city, Stearns Wharf has been the city's top tourist attraction, drawing 5 million visitors a year.
But the tourists and the wharf are expected to return.
``That pier has burned down about three times, I think,'' said longtime resident Merilyn Atkinson. ``I'm surprised this time it only burned halfway because that wood is just soaked with creosote.''