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Riverside County Paper Publishes Despite Arson

October 06, 2005|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Not even the blaze that gutted the newsroom could stop the presses at the Riverside County Record.

Arson caused the early morning fire Sunday that tore through the roof, attic and siding of the small weekly newspaper's historic office in Pedley, just north of western Riverside, fire authorities said.

"I don't know if it was somebody that didn't like my style of journalism or if it was just a firebug," said publisher and editor David H. Barnes, 56, who went to work at the paper in 1974 and bought it 20 years ago.

Fire officials have not released details of the investigation, including whether they have identified suspects or a motive, said Patrick Chandler, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Riverside County Fire Department.

The staff of about 10 full-timers and contributors scrambled to put out Wednesday's paper on time for its 7,500 readers. The publication, which typically focuses on local politics in the unincorporated communities of western Riverside County, was four pages shy of the broadsheet's usual 20-page run.

Barnes said he was relieved that firefighters were able to save not only his computer -- "the brains of the whole company" -- but also bound volumes of the paper, which was founded in 1955, his Vietnam War medals and photographs of his grandfather during World War I.

"They're remarkable, these firefighters," Barnes said. "I'm going to owe a lot of doughnuts."

Three other fires broke out at nearby businesses the same weekend, at least one of them about an hour and a half earlier than the blaze at the Record, Chandler said. The cause of those fires is still under investigation, he said.

Although firefighters estimated the damage to the Record at about $25,000, Barnes says it could cost as much as $150,000 to repair the building and replace the cameras and furniture that were destroyed.

The paper was housed in a two-bedroom lath-and-plaster home built in 1929 -- one of the region's first houses, complete with potbelly stove, said Barnes.

He said the fire was "not going to ... slow me at all." For now, the publication will operate out of Barnes' Glen Avon kitchen, and readers can expect a full 20-page issue next week, he said.

The old building could take up to a year to repair, so Barnes might set up temporary shop in part of a friend's office building, he said. In spite of contentious coverage of local officials over the years, he said nearly two dozen offers to house the paper have poured in -- "even [from] people that I've argued with for 25 years," Barnes said. "People love our paper."

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