Santa Barbara City Fire department respond to a report of fire at the Courthouse Jan. 5, 2010
Paul Wellman

Fire responders have extinguished a small fire in an attic area of the historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse downtown, and are currently allowing smoke to ventilate out of the building.

Santa Barbara City Fire responded in force to the report of the fire just after 5 p.m. Tuesday, and stretched hoses up to the third floor, using water to put out the small fire. Shortly after 5 p.m., smoke could be seen billowing out of a third-story window located above the Public Defender’s office near the archway of the courthouse. It appears the fire was contained to the small attic area.

Public Defender Greg Paraskou said that soon after he and fellow employees started smelling smoke, they saw it pouring out of an attic space in the ceiling above. Another employee within the same office said that immediately before she started smelling smoke “all of a sudden the phones went out.” Several attorneys in the office were standing outside watching the fire as the sun began to set and engines began to arrive.

In total, six engines, two ladder trucks, a battalion chief, and an investigator all responded to the fire. Battalion Chief Pat McElroy said officials were feeling pretty good about the situation, but planned on sticking around to make sure everything was okay.

The courthouse, built in 1929, is a national historic landmark, and because of additions, renovations, and changes, it has a lot of nooks and crannies, many of which are concrete and making firefighting difficult. “It’s a complex building,” McElroy said, adding that the Fire Department would be keeping an eye on the building because of its historical and cultural significance. “The value of this building is incalculable.”

Smoke could be seen in the downstairs area of the courthouse around 6 p.m. as the building was being ventilated. It wasn’t clear how extensive the damage is to the Public Defender’s office or any part of the courthouse.

Drivers should expect Anacapa between Figueroa and Anapamu streets to be closed for some time.

No determination has been made by county officials as to whether the courthouse will be open for business tomorrow. After firefighting units clear the courthouse, building supervisors will assess any damages and determine whether the building can be used tomorrow, county spokesperson William Boyer said. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.


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