A five-alarm fire destroyed the historic Rehorn Home in downtown Fresno Monday night and threatened an adjacent apartment building, prompting residents to evacuate their apartments and shelter in city buses.
The stately Rehorn Home at Mariposa and S streets, built by a member of Fresno’s early elite one block from St. John’s Cathedral, was on the National Register of Historic Places.
The fire broke out around 5 p.m. and was visibly smoking for some time before flames forced firefighters to retreat and try to protect nearby structures.
A passerby called the fire department after seeing smoke escaping from the historic home, Fresno Fire Capt. Tim Fulmer said. Firefighters responded within minutes and started to search inside for occupants.
Firefighters had to cut their search short and evacuate the house after they found the fire brewing in the basement, Fulmer said. They feared the floors above would give way to the flames below.
“It was too dangerous for our crews to be inside,” Fulmer said.
It had appeared that fire crews were gaining control as smoke billowed throughout the house after it was drenched with water.
Minutes later, the fire exploded as flames tore out of the lower floors of the house. A large crowd from the neighborhood gathered to watch as white-hot flames soared into the evening sky.
Fresno Fire Department brought in 15 engine companies and more than 60 firefighters to battle the flames.
Several cars parked by the house were caught behind police tape when fire crews first started attacking the smoking building. Several drivers were able to move their vehicles before the flames took off. A couple of cars that were left were drenched with water as firefighters sought to protect them from igniting.
Embers rained down upon neighboring homes and businesses as firefighters were staged nearby to prevent other fires from forming, Fulmer said. Nearby trees were cut and sprayed with water to ensure the flames didn’t spread to a neighboring apartment complex.
Residents of the apartments were evacuated temporarily by Fresno police into waiting Fresno Area Express buses, Fulmer said.
The 4,027-square-foot Georgian Revival home was left in ruins as flames whipped with intensity and the structure crumbled from the inside.
Fresno Fire Department brought in 15 engine companies and more than 60 firefighters to battle the flames, Fulmer said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The Rehorn Home appeared vacant because of the lack of upkeep on the property, Fulmer said. Firefighters saw an overgrowth of trees and furniture that appeared as if it hadn’t been used in a while.
The home was built just after the turn of the last century by Frank Rehorn, a pioneer building contractor who figured heavily in Fresno’s early growth, according to an account from www.historicfresno.org/. Rehorn was the first president of the Builder’s Exchange, and was known as so vehemently anti-union that construction of the home was stalled by three very public labor strikes.
After Rehorn died, the home was sold to H.H. Holland, whose family sold it to the Catholic Church after his death.
The building was used as a convent by the Sisters of the Holy Cross until 1970. It later was used as a home for unwed mothers, and for communal student house.
In 1976, architects Allen Y. Lew and William E. Patnaude bought the home and restored it for use as an architectural office.