Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the fire last week that destroyed a building at Beale Air Force Base, though the area’s congressman pledged on Monday to work on getting funding to rebuild.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi said the price tag for restoring the two-story office and shop building at the Yuba County base will be between $10 million and $20 million.
“They’re doing everything they need to do to carry on,” said Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, after touring the perimeter of the ravaged building and meeting with base officials and fire crews who responded to the Jan. 21 blaze.
“I’m going to pursue a very quick process of rebuilding this building,” he said.
The fire, which broke out on the building’s southern end, required the assistance of fire agencies from Wheatland, Olivehurst and Linda, in addition to Beale’s on-site department. Because the fire began on a holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, only one person was inside, and escaped.
Capt. Brian Wagner, a base spokesman, said about 200 airmen and staff who would normally work in the building were scattered elsewhere at the base, including a second building for civil engineering operations and in offices allotted for the 940th Reserve Wing.
Wagner said a five-person team from Air Force Central Command began investigating the fire over the weekend, but did not give a timeline on how soon a cause would be determined.
In addition to offices, the damaged building housed electricians, utilities and other base functions. Base officials have pegged the damage at more than $10 million, Wagner said.
Garamendi said he believes the money can be found for reconstruction, noting many other military construction projects have come in under budget in recent years creating leftover funds.
After seeing the damage firsthand, he said, it was beyond what he believed.
“There’s a serious problem here, but it can be solved,” he said, adding 1982 legislation allows for military base reconstruction to happen more quickly when affected by a disaster.
As part of his tour, Garamendi met Airman 1st Class Aaron Fehlinger, who received a minor injury when the roof collapsed while he was inside as part of the fire response team. Fehlinger said he would have been hurt worse without proper equipment.
“It was pretty crazy,” he said. “It makes me really appreciate my job in the Air Force.”
Ben van der Meer is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.