The round, wooden building that housed the Don Pedro Recreation Agency’s visitors center burned to the ground late Wednesday. The area off Bonds Flat Road near the dam was closed to the public Thursday as fire investigators looked through the ruins.
The roughly 5,000-square-foot building is owned by the Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts and the city and county of San Francisco. TID staff members who live in employee housing nearby were alerted to the fire alarms about 9:30 p.m. and went to the building to check, said irrigation district spokesman Calvin Curtin.
They called the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which responded along with the Tuolumne County and Sonora fire departments. Seven engines, two hand crews, three water tenders and a battalion chief worked the scene, said Cal Fire Capt. Brad Niven.
The first crew that arrived found the building fully involved, he said, and a couple of acres of wildland burning. With the building a loss, the operation was to stop the fire’s spread, Niven said. The blaze, which was out by about 12:30 a.m., claimed the building and 6.3 acres of land.
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With its round shape and peaked roof, the visitors center was engulfed quickly, Curtin said at the scene Thursday morning. When the new visitors center is built, it’s certain to be more concrete than wood, he said. Asked about a damage estimate, Curtin said, “We won’t know that for some time until we can get in there and evaluate the site.”
It could have been the worst timing because Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff of summer, is here, he said, and “the lake has water for the first time in a few years.”
Fortunately, Curtin said, the fire does not affect much at all, from a recreation standpoint. The boat ramps, marinas and campgrounds all are open as usual, he said.
As for a visitors center, TID is bringing in the educational trailer it takes to schools, Curtin said. That will do until “a more permanent temporary” visitors center is established.
Information on the age of the lost visitors center was not available. Curtin said it had been remodeled about 20 years ago.
The building housed memorabilia from the area’s history, including Gold Rush mining tools and old photographs (which fortunately had been scanned), and its deck offered a 180-degree view of the reservoir, Curtin said.
Until investigators complete their work, the site is being treated as a potential crime scene, a Don Pedro Recreation Agency employee said.
No one was burned in the fire, but one firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation and released, Niven said.
For questions regarding the reservoir or scheduled activities, the visitors center’s normal line, 209-852-2396, remains in operation.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327