Hotel devoured – Guests barely escape as Downieville Inn and nearby home erupt in flames
DOWNIEVILLE – This St. Patrick’s Day, Jerry Nolcox was feeling the luck of the Irish.
Sitting on a bar stool Thursday, the Downieville resident was nursing a beer and a broken ankle as he recounted how much worse his injuries could have been.
Nolcox woke in the night Tuesday to find the Downieville Inn ablaze around him. As he starting walking to safety, the heat quickly blistered his feet. He leaped from his second-story room’s balcony, barely escaping one of the most dramatic fires in the Sierra County town’s recent history.
“If I would have slept two more minutes, I would have been dead meat,” he said. “If I would have landed on my head on the concrete, I would have been dead. I am as lucky as hell.”
The 11-room Downieville Inn was reported on fire at about 9 p.m. Tuesday, and everything but the 70-year-old building’s frame burned to the ground. A two-story home next to the hotel also was severely damaged. Five people were staying at the hotel and escaped the blaze.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation, Sierra County Sheriff’s Lt. Lou Foxworthy said. Nolcox was the only person hurt in either structure, although one tenant’s dog is missing and presumed dead.
The inn and home are located on the left side of Highway 49 just as visitors enter the Downieville business district coming north from Nevada County.
The hotel’s owner and manager, Aaron Faibish, lives on the same property in another home. He said his business, which was built in the 1930s, is one of four hotels in the town, and that he has owned it for about two years.
Winter is the quietest time of the year for the hotel, which is open year-round and averages 1,100 room rentals a year, Faibish said.
Faibish said that while the hotel was insured, it was still a major loss. He plans on rebuilding the hotel.
“It’s early in the game, but that’s the game plan,” he said.
Faibish said he does not know the cause of the fire, but that it was most likely an accident.
“I will be curious to know what the police report says,” he said.
Auburn resident Jeremy Calderon was staying at the hotel overnight with a friend, when he “heard a noise like something was knocking on the left wall of the hotel,” he said.
When Calderon stepped outside, he saw that a quarter of the building was on fire. By the time the two made it down the stairs, he said, the entire building was on fire.
“It took less than two minutes for the fire to spread across,” he said.
Senior staff writer Dave Moller contributed to this story.
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