Vintage: 50th Anniversary of the Tetley Hotel Fire, Riverside, California in the US
50 years ago, on 26 September 1972, the iconic Arlington/Tetley Hotel was destroyed by fire at the northwest corner of University and Lime Streets in Riverside, California in the US. During the late evening hours of the 26th, the hotel caught fire. Fire fighters located out of Fire Station #1 directly behind the Tetley hotel were awaken by the fire and the fire fighters did not have the equipment to reach the top floors of the building. Mutual aid was called in with several outside departments assisting.
The fire fighters fought the blaze valiantly but to no avail. The cause of the fire was a hot plate.
From retired Division Chief Ron Richmond:
On a recent visit to Station 1, Chief Ron Richmond (ret) shared the story of that fire.
Someone at old Station 1 got up in the middle of the night to use the restroom (it was one big open dorm back then) and he saw the glow of a fire in the hotel behind the station, where Station 1 currently sits. He sounded the alarm and units from eight of the nine stations responded to the fire. As a first year rookie on E5 (Streeter and Arlington), Chief Richmond recalls that E5 (Captain John Caracabura, Engineer Jim Dunbar, Fire fighter Ron Richmond, and Cadet Tom Shipley) was dispatched on the second alarm. Upon arrival, E5 was assigned to the roof.
Chief Richmond recalls manning a 1½” hose line and noticing how spongy the roof was. He actually contemplated using the hose as a rope to climb up if the roof collapsed. When he was out of air, he told someone that he was heading down to get another bottle. Engineer Bill Cooper (T2) had been swapping out spent bottles. As Chief Richmond recalls, the person he told thought FF Richmond was relaying an order to get off the roof. When FF Richmond reached the bottom of the ladder, he noticed that the six or seven other people were coming down the ladder as well. Once the last person stepped off the ladder, the roof collapsed.
Chief Richmond recalls that the Incident Command Post was at the intersection of 8th (now University) and Lime Street. He said there was so much hose on the ground that one could walk all the way around the block and never step on concrete. An inspector said that there was so much water coming out of the front door of the hotel that a trout could have swam up it. The fire was started by a person renting a room. It was caused by careless use of a hot plate. The person said that he tried to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher, but he pulled the handle and nothing happened so he left. The extinguisher was later found in the debris. It still had the pin in the handle.
The story within the story is that we were minutes away from losing seven or eight people that night, which would have meant that we never would have had Captain Scott Richmond or Engineer Dan Richmond. As Chief Richmond stated, “Someone was looking out for me that day.”
Since the building was demolished the site was used as a Downtown parking lot until re-used beginning in 2012 as the current Downtown fire station. Originally named the Arlington Hotel was built in 1887 by HB Everest was purchased by Frank A Tetley in 1912. The hotel was designed by G Stanley Wilson in Spanish Colonial style. The hotel contained 80 rooms and 23 baths.
For a few years, the hotel housed the County of Riverside offices. The hotel was renamed Tetley Hotel by Tetley’s daughter in 1958. As a hotel, it has various names through its long history. Included among them were the Arlington Hotel, the Tetley Hotel and the Riverside Hotel.
Source: City of Riverside Fire Department
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