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California and the West

Historic Pier in Santa Barbara Engulfed by Fire

November 19, 1998|MILES CORWIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA BARBARA — Fire engulfed historic Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara on Wednesday night, destroying two restaurants and several shops, and continued out of control late into the night.

The fire broke out at 9:45 p.m., apparently caused by a faulty gas line at Moby Dick restaurant, a Fire Department spokesman said. By 11:30 p.m., it had gutted about half of California's oldest working pier, built in the 19th century.

A few minutes after the fire began, there was a large explosion and the flames "just ripped through the pier," said Kari Holbrook, manager of Andrea's Harborside restaurant, which is just a few hundred yards away from the pier.

"After this incredible explosion, a bunch of debris flew up in the air, and within five minutes half the pier was in flames. Right now, the whole sky is lit up. It looks like a small city is in flames."

Santa Barbara Police Lt. Gil Zuniga said as soon as the fire started, numerous patrol cars were dispatched to the pier to evacuate customers and employees of Moby Dick and the Santa Barbara Shellfish Co., both of which were destroyed.

"We got everyone out of there real quick," he said. "We're fortunate nobody got killed out there."

Fire boats also trained water on the flames. No injuries were reported.

The fire caused a power outage for many businesses that line Cabrillo Boulevard, the oceanfront street near the pier, Holbrook said.

"It's dark here, but it's wild out there on the pier," she said. "It looks like every firetruck and police car in the city is at the edge of the pier with their lights flashing and sirens wailing."

Stearns Wharf, which is at the foot of State Street, was built in 1872 to serve cargo and passenger ships. In the 1930s, gamblers boarded floating casinos at the pier. During World War II it was turned into a naval installation.

Now it is the site of specialty shops, a small museum, restaurants and snack shops. Fishermen often line up on the pier and cast their lines.

The pier offers a panoramic view of the harbor and the mountains behind the city.

*

Times correspondent Holly J. Olcott in Santa Barbara contributed to this story; Corwin reported from Los Angeles.

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