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Fire destroys clubhouse at Meadow Oaks

Matt Lowman and his partners watched nine months of work burn to the ground early Monday as fire caused an estimated $360,000 damage to the newly renovated clubhouse at Meadow Oaks Golf and Country Club.

A few hours later, though, they were back in business.

"We're still open _ people love to golf," said Lowman, one of the owners of Meadow Oaks, which is on Fairwinds Road north of State Road 52.

When firefighters arrived at the one-story, gray and white clubhouse at 12:35 a.m. Monday, the attic was engulfed in flames. Chief Debbie Fahlman of Pasco Fire-Rescue said the fire detection system hadn't picked up the fire until it spread through the attic.

Although the fire was contained in about 45 minutes, it took until 4 a.m. for officials to scour the building and put out all of the hidden fire, District Chief Tim Fussell said.

A short-circuit in the kitchen's hood system may have caused the fire, which started near the front of the building, moved across the attic, then down the sides of the building.

"It was a tough fire to fight with the wood construction and the open attic," Fussell said.

The restaurant and bar that made up the eastern half of the shop were destroyed, along with a screened-in porch. Inside the pro shop, charred golf clubs and golf bags were scattered on the soggy ground.

About half of the building still stands.

"The only part we were able to save was the room they had all their records in," Fussell said.

Forty-foot flames blackened nearby oak and pine trees, and intense heat twisted metal door frames inside the wooden structure.

When the first fire crew arrived on the scene, officials sounded a second alarm for more equipment and more firefighters. About 20 firefighters were needed to contain the blaze.

One firefighter pulled a muscle in his shoulder, and one got something in his eye. Fussell said no one was in the building when the fire started and no other injuries were reported.

Lowman, 34, and Ron Padova, 34, walked through the wreckage and managed to keep a sense of humor Monday morning. The two, who own the club with Andy Padova, 40, spent the past nine months renovating the building. An installer set up the oak cabinets in the pro shop just two weeks ago.

"I expect he'll be back any time now," said Ron Padova as he stepped through soggy insulation and timbers that littered the floor.

Lowman and the Padovas have set up a temporary shop in a nearby utility building. It's not as fancy as the restaurant and bar, but "we plan to sell sandwiches and soda," Padova said.

The owners, who are fully covered by insurance, say they plan to have the building restored by this winter. Their business includes an 18-hole golf course, which will stay open during repairs.

"Any other business would be out of business, but in golf, the course is what's important," Lowman said. "We've got a lot of golf balls and golf clubs for sale."