CL was center of a firestorm in July 2009


Canyon Lake was the center of a firestorm in July 2009 with fires on July 17, 18, 19 and 20.

The blaze destroyed nine businesses that leased space in the buildings. Photo by Bert Barbay

On the morning of Friday, July 17, a fire consumed a 10,000 sq. ft. building in the Towne Center. A smaller fire damaging a building at the opposite end of the center broke out the following morning. Ironically, the two fires destroyed one bar and damaged another; however, the incidents were not related according to Lt. Dan Feltenberger of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The Towne Center building that was destroyed in the fire that took place Friday morning included nine separate units (lots) owned by seven different owners. The fire, first reported by CLPD Deputy Ken Guilford at 5:28 a.m., originated in the Sports Stop, consisting of two units owned by Dale Erwin. Residents Pete and Houria Riley had taken ownership of the Sports Stop two years prior to the fire and employed nearly a dozen people, many of whom were Canyon Lake residents.

The two-alarm blaze drew a total of 10 engines, two truck companies, one breathing support, one ambulance, 56 firefighters and 11 management personnel, including Battalion Chief Robert Toups, a Canyon Lake resident. Also responding to help with cleanup and salvage were 17 members of the Bautista Conservation Camp hand crew.

To many Canyon Lake residents and Towne Center workers, it was an unthinkable tragedy to watch property, businesses and jobs go up in smoke – either their own or that of someone they know.

Scores of people looked on from the outskirts of the parking lot, some fought back tears, a few watched in isolated disbelief, many chatted in small groups and others paced and talked on their cell phones.

The blaze destroyed nine businesses. They included Lakefront Family Dentistry (Dr. Derek Hauser), Scott Richards Rehab Solutions, VIP Events, the Law Offices of Beck and Greer, Sports Stop, AAA All States Transport, Pro Digital Printing, The Drop Off (a new childcare center due to open the following week) and the Law Offices of Giardinelli and Duke.

“The cause of the fire was suspicious but undetermined,” said Houria. Houria and Pete didn’t have insurance at the time, the Sports Stop was rebuilt with their own money.

The fire that broke out early Saturday morning, July 18, at the doors of the Lake House, a bar owned by Suzanne Regis in the building below AM Furniture (northeast corner of the Towne Center), was reported at 4:44 a.m. and quickly knocked down by 13 firefighters from three engines and one truck company, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. The cause of the Lake House fire was determined by Cal Fire investigators to be arson.

Two wildland fires also took place that week. The first occurred on Sunday, July 19, in the hilly, unincorporated area north of Fire Station 60 off Vacation Drive. The “Wrangler Fire” was reported at 4:06 p.m. and burned 18 acres before it was brought under control by 85 firefighters, two management personnel, 11 engines, one helicopter, one air attack plane, two air tankers, two fire crews, one water tender and two bulldozers. There were no injuries and no structural damage.

The “Connecticut Fire” was reported at 1 p.m. on Monday, July 20, in the Quail Valley area. Resources assigned to the blaze included 35 firefighters, 11 engines, two management personnel, one helicopter and one water tender.

The blaze was contained to three acres and was caused by equipment being used to disc the area, according to Public Information Officer Captain Fernando Herrera.