By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER and LENORE RUTHERFORD
As the owner's husband watched helplessly, a spectacular blaze Tuesday night consumed a downtown Twain Harte landmark the historic Twain Harte Inn.
Some 60 firefighters from Sonora to Pinecrest battled throughout the night against flames that leaped about 50 feet at times from the roof of the building.
The 10 p.m. fire burned virtually all of the Inn's interior and left homeless eight people living in first-floor apartments and rented-out motel rooms in a separate building nearby.
"A lot of the underside was open, so once the fire got going it had all the fuel and all the air to become large, fast," said Bob Kempvanee, incident commander and chief of Twain Harte Community Services District Fire Department.
Kempvanee said the fire started in the lower level of the main building, where the apartments were. No possible cause has yet been named.
"You could see the glow from the firehouse. It was pretty impressive," said Mike Schmidt, volunteer firefighter for Twain Harte department and one of the first to respond.
The 16,000-square-foot Inn was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived. One unit in the motel behind the main building burned as well, and another was damaged as firefighters worked to control the blaze.
However, firefighters prevented fire from spreading to any more rooms and confined flames to the the main structure.
"Everything is gone," said Miranda Rivamonte, 21, who, with her boyfriend, Chris Walsh, 31, had been living in the motel room that burned.
The couple was alerted to the fire when their black lab, Artie, began barking. Three hours later, the dog was still too scared to come out of a neighboring 7-Eleven store.
While rumors swirled at the scene as to a cause, Richard Imlach, battalion chief for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said a lengthy investigation will likely be necessary before any source of the flames can be cited.