ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Flames erupted Wednesday morning at the abandoned Escondido Country Club and burned down the shuttered clubhouse, a battalion chief said.
Firefighters were still battling the "stubborn fire" more than two hours after it broke out about 5:20 a.m. at the closed golf course on West Country Club Lane just north of El Norte Parkway, Escondido fire Battalion Chief Art Holcomb said. Fire crews were expected to be on scene much of the day knocking down the flames, mopping up the aftermath and investigating the cause.
The site of the blaze was the subject of a contested vote just last week in which the Escondido City Council voted 3-2 to approve a housing project, "The Villages," which would see 380 new homes built on the 109 acres of the abandoned golf course and country club.
Firefighters responding to the two-alarm blaze Wednesday morning found the clubhouse fully involved in flames when they arrived about 5:30 and took a "defensive approach to the stubborn fire," fighting the blaze from the exterior, Holcomb said. Ten engines, three trucks, three ambulances and three battalion chiefs were all dispatched to the scene.
Footage from several news stations showed flames shooting out of the roof of the clubhouse around 6:30 a.m. Fire crews used ladder trucks to dump water on the inferno from above.
There was no early indication as to what started the fire, but it erupted on what is supposed to be a record-breaking day of heat in Escondido and the rest of San Diego County. It also happened a week after the city council vote that will see the abandoned country club turned into a housing tract.
That plan was fiercely opposed by many residents, including a coalition of about 300 neighbors who live near the golf course who are plotting a legal challenge to fight the city's decision. The country club was closed about five years ago after Beverly Hills businessman Michael Schlesinger bought the property in 2012. Under the project approved last week, Schlesinger will sell the property to developer New Urban West and that company will build "The Villages" tract.
Schlesinger has faced opposition at several San Diego County sites where he purchased golf courses with plans to develop housing projects there. Earlier this month, voters in Poway resoundingly rejected a ballot measure which would have allowed Schlesinger to build 180 luxury condominiums at the StoneRidge County Club. Poway's Measure A was defeated 62 percent to 38 percent, and the next day Schlesinger followed through on threats he made before the election to close the facility.