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Fire Ravages Historic Calif. Wharf

November 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.″

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