Fire Guts California Retreat Center

HNP Communications Franciscan World

A 100-year-old building at St. Francis Retreat Center just south of San Juan Bautista Mission in California burned June 23.

The historic, three-story, 5,000-square-foot building burned to the ground.

Flames reportedly blew right out through the top of the building, lighting up the dawn sky. At one point, firefighters had to withdraw from the building, fearing a major collapse.

By the afternoon, only three of the structure’s five chimneys were left standing, amid a smoldering pile of rubble.

The firefighters were able to save some of the building’s religious artifacts – such as priceless artwork, statues, and crucifixes – while the fire was burning overhead.

Authorities said one person suffered minor injuries in the blaze, which began at 4:47 a.m. along the wall of the home’s veranda. Six people were in the building when the fire started, but they were able to escape.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The home, built in 1863, served as the retreat’s dining area, kitchen, gift shop, and administrative office. The retreat house’s chapel and most, if not all, of the 135 guest rooms were protected from the flames.

The multi-use retreat facility, located on Mission Vineyard Road, is owned and operated by the Franciscan Friars of California. The property was part of the historical San Justo Rancho that, after the decree of secularization in 1832, was owned by the Mexican Government and then was passed into the hands of various ranching concerns before the friars obtained part of the 35,000 acres in 1947.