Patrick social center gutted; no one injured

BY DAN GARCIA
FLORIDA TODAY

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE -- People planning wedding receptions, graduation parties or other once-in-a-lifetime celebrations at the Officers' Club will have to look elsewhere thanks to a raging fire.
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See images of the Officer's Club

A blaze ripped through the club Monday night, engulfing the building and shutting down State Road A1A at least four hours. Dozens of firefighters responded to the scene, and trucks were sent to help from NASA, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Satellite Beach, Brevard County Fire-Rescue, Cocoa and Patrick.

Twenty-two people in the facility -- some having dinner -- were evacuated and no injuries were reported. The club, which sits on the beach and offers a glass view of the ocean, was gutted.

Firefighters battled the stubborn blaze from outside, not going into the building because of the volatile nature of the fire.

Several pops were heard as the fire ate away at the facility that includes a full commercial kitchen used to cater private parties. Patrick's water cannon was brought in about 8:45 p.m. to help put out the flames, but it continued to burn.
Flames engulf the Patrick Air Force Base Officers' Club. Image by Emily Barnes, FLORIDA TODAY

One firefighter kept dousing the flames on the roof for more than two hours, making very little progress.

"It was a catastrophe," base spokesman Ken Warren said. "It was a huge fire."

The club not only served military officers, but also retirees and could be rented out for private parties.

Warren called it the social heart of the base.

"You could come here to dance, you could come here for dinner, you could come here for bingo. You could get married here. It was the social center of the base," he said, lamenting the loss of the structure, which has been a Brevard institution since 1951.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Czyzewski said the cause of the fire was unknown.

However, one witness said he believes the fire started in the kitchen.

Sean Harvey, 17, a busboy at the club, said he was driving past the club when he saw smoke.

As the 22 people evacuated the building, he spotted some chefs with whom he worked.

"They told me the ceiling caught fire right above them, and it collapsed," Harvey said. "When I saw the fire, it was just raging."

Some military personnel sat on their balconies across the street from the club, some with cameras, watching as the night sky turned orange and yellow -- and as the fire grew and calmed and grew again.

SR A1A from South Orlando Avenue in Cocoa Beach to the Pineda Causeway remained closed past 11 p.m., and fire crews kept a close eye on the flames.

Firefighters moved from one side of the building to another attempting to contain the fire. Officials said they hoped to have it contained by midnight.

The full-service hospitality center, a landmark in Brevard County, had an array of functions.

The 40,000-square-foot center served continental cuisine nightly, military personnel met there for social events, guests could enjoy a tiki bar with ocean view from the deck and live bands performed regularly on Friday and Saturday nights.

A Super Bowl event, Mardi Gras party and art auction were among the events scheduled for the coming two weeks.

http://www.floridatoday.com/!NEWSROOM/localstoryMAIN0201PATRICKFINAL0.htm

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I can't belive this is gone........I was supposed to have my graduation party here. I also got my start in AFJROTC there. Just wow....