December 23, 2009 in City

Cliff House fire started by office power strip

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

Firefighters from Spokane Valley, Spokane City and Fire District 9 combined to fight a multiple alarm fire at Arbor Crest Winery early Wednesday December 23, 2009. The Riblet Mansion or Cliff House caught fire during the night and firefighters had to fight the cold and lack of water to try and save the historic mansion that sits on a bluff overlooking the Spokane River and Valley.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

An early morning fire gutted the interior of the landmark Cliff House mansion on the grounds of Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, but its owners said they will restore the damage if possible.

Investigators say the fire was caused by a power strip located in the building’s first-floor office.

Firefighters were called at 3:50 a.m. and found the building burning on all three floors. A second alarm was sent out a short time later, bringing 24 firefighters and six fire rigs to the scene initially.

As they arrived, windows already had been blown out by the fire’s heat.

“It was burning pretty significantly before we even got our first units here,” said Spokane Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson.

By 7:30 a.m., firefighters had knocked down the blaze and were in the process of mopping up hot spots inside the building at 4705 N. Fruithill Road. No injuries occurred.

Extensive fire damage was reported inside. A fire official said the building’s structural integrity appeared to remain intact.

Thompson said firefighters had to use tenders to bring enough water to the scene and had help from Fire District No. 9 in supplying a steady stream of water.

The mansion is at the end of a large parking area and driveway. Firefighters laid a long feed line from engines to the fire.

The fire was initially spotted by a motorist on Trent Avenue who called it in, Thompson said. A second call was received from a resident who saw a glow coming from the mansion and checked with binoculars and saw it was on fire, he said.

Winemaker Kristina M. van Loben Sels said the building is insured and that she “absolutely” wants to repair the damage if it can be done.

Built by Royal Riblet in 1925, the mansion is the architectural focal point of the Arbor Crest winery grounds on a bluff overlooking the Spokane River Valley, east of Argonne Road.

The landscaped estate, with its basalt rock entry gatehouse, is the setting for a popular summer evening concert series known to thousands of wine and music lovers. Weddings are held there throughout the nice weather months.

The winery operates the mansion for special events and tours and uses a separate newer tasting room to the north of the Cliff House for its retail wine sales and tastings. Winemaking and aging is done at a separate facility near Havana Street and Buckeye Avenue.

The Italianate/Mission-style mansion was designed by prominent Spokane architect George Keith and built for Riblet, an inventor and entrepreneur who made a small fortune building tramways for Inland Northwest mining companies, according to the historic preservation office serving Spokane County and the city of Spokane. Royal Riblet named the mansion Eagle’s Nest.

His brother, engineer Byron Christian Riblet, in 1896 started what became the Riblet Tramway Co., still based in Spokane. The Riblet name is familiar to longtime skiers because the company has built ski chairlifts since the 1950s.

The structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 9, 1979 and the Spokane Register of Historic Places in 1986 as the Riblet Mansion.

The mansion was purchased for Arbor Crest in 1985.

Brothers David and Harold Mielke restored the house for use in the winery business and now call it Arbor Crest Cliff House.

Van Loben Sels and other members of the family were called about 5 a.m., and opened the tasting room for firefighters to warm up after they got wet dousing the fire.

Electricity to the tasting room and mansion were cut off about 7:30 a.m., but the tasting room was equipped with a gas fireplace stove to maintain the heat.

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