UPDATE 4:45 P.M. — A 53-year-old man authorities believe had arrived in Gualala days earlier has been charged with arson in a fire that burned down the Gualala Community Center’s two original buildings, according to a news release from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.
Upon arriving on the scene around 4 a.m. Monday, “deputies received initial information from fire personnel that suggested the fire may have been intentionally set,” Lieutenant Joseph Comer wrote in his report. The Sheriff’s Office brought in detectives as well as a Ukiah Valley Fire Authority arson investigator.
They accessed surveillance footage that “showed a male individual igniting a fire at the location and then fleeing from the property on foot,” Comer wrote. On video, the fire spread rapidly to engulf the structure in minutes, he reported.
Based on clothing seen in the video, authorities arrested Roland Eskind at 7:52 a.m. on South Highway 1 in Gualala. Eskind is believed to be unhoused, according to the report. He has been transported to the Mendocino County Jail.
More details on the fire and the Community Center below:
UPDATE 4 P.M. — A fire that began overnight and continued well into Monday at the Gualala Community Center has “completely demolished” two of the facility’s three structures, Board President Kevin Evans told The Mendocino Voice. The two that burned were the original buildings on the property, erected back in 1954 to provide a gathering space for the community.
“It’s a sad experience for everyone associated that has benefited from the Community Center,” Evans said in a phone conversation with The Mendocino Voice.
The fire is still under investigation by the South Coast Fire Protection District, Chief Jason Wagner told The Voice by phone, though he confirmed that the building was unoccupied when firefighters arrived. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office is involved in the investigation, he said.
The newest building in the complex was spared, but the center was a critical part of the community. For decades it hosted public meetings and performances, sold donated goods, and funded college scholarships.
“The Community Center facility reflected the history of the area through the rustic wood interior and historic photos,” Evans said. “The memories will always be special to those that volunteered their time for many years to make the community center feel like home.”
He added, “The community and the Community Center Board are focused on rebuilding this iconic building and preserving the memories.”
Many different agencies responded to the scene, including: North Sonoma Coast Fire, Timber Cove Fire, Redwood Coast Fire, Elk Fire, Anderson Valley Fire, and Coast Life Support District.
GUALALA, CA, 2/13/23 — Multiple fire departments were on the scene at the Gualala Community Center on Monday morning, after the center sustained damage in an overnight fire. A representative for the South Coast Fire Protection District told The Voice that, after getting a quick look at the damage, she thinks the building may no longer be usable following the fire.
Firefighters were still working on the scene to put out the blaze as of 11:30 a.m. Monday, the representative said. Center Street was closed as of 9 a.m., and South Coast Fire requested that people stay out of the area.
According to local radio station KGUA, the fire department was dispatched to the center around 3:30 a.m. Monday. No cause of the fire was yet available to The Voice; because the building was closed there should not have been any injuries, the South Coast Fire representative said, but she could not confirm those details. In images from the scene, the building’s roof appears to have collapsed.
The Gualala Community Center had been open since 1954, when a group of volunteers who “wanted to help their small community” constructed the building as a site for dancing, plays, and community meetings.
Today, with a seven-person Board of Directors, the center supports South Coast residents through a variety of initiatives: funding college scholarships; underwriting South Coast Seniors Tuesday Lunches, three area food banks, Project Santa, the Gualala farmer’s market, and the Gualala Municipal Advisory Council; hosting public meetings; and providing clothes and furniture to people with emergency needs.
Some residents shared fears online for the future of the Pay N Take Sale, at which many shop for donated reused or new goods in the center on two Saturdays each month. People can also rent space at the center, which can accommodate up to 320 people, for modest rates of between $10 and $20 per hour.
This is a developing situation and information may change. We’ll update this article as more information becomes available. The most recent information will be updated at the top of the article, with the earlier reports below.
The Chief of South Coast is Jason Warner, not Wagner.