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Fire destroys clubhouse; golf goes on

Matt Lowman and his partners watched nine months of work burn to the ground early Monday morning.

A few hours later, they were back in business.

"We're still open," said Lowman, one of the owners of the Meadow Oaks Golf and Country Club, where the clubhouse was destroyed in a fire early Monday. "People love to golf."

The one-story gray and white clubhouse with cathedral ceilings was almost gutted in the blaze that caused at least $360,000 worth of damage.

When officials arrived at the clubhouse at 12:35 a.m. Monday, the attic was already fully engulfed in flames. Chief Debbie Fahlman said the fire detection system hadn't picked up the fire until it had 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, said District Fire Chief Tim Fussell.

Fahlman said detectives believe an electrical short in the kitchen's hood system may have caused the fire. Early in the day, officials told owner Ron Padova, who got to the club at 12:50 a.m., that an exhaust motor in the attic may have been the culprit.

It will be three to five days before state and county fire investigators know for sure.

Fussell said the flames started somewhere near the front of the building, moved across the attic and then down the sides of the building.

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

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

About half of the building is still standing.

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

One firefighter pulled a muscle in his shoulder, and one got something in his eye. Fussell said that no one was in the building when the fire started and that 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. No, it's not as fancy as the restaurant and bar, but "we plan to sell sandwiches and soda," Padova said.

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

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