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Stag Hotel Manager Talks About Fire, Aftermath

Russ Rickman worries about his residents, who aren't a lot of 'criminals' and 'nuts.'

The Stag Hotel and its manager, Russell Rickman, are both 75.

One is in markedly better shape these days.

, on West Beach Street, just before 6 p.m. Monday. The building has been vacated and will take months to rebuild.

Rickman is staying with a friend for the time being, but is otherwise unscathed. Sitting in The Villager bar on Thursday afternoon, Rickman talked calmly about .

"We had a little fire and it turned into a big fire," said Rickman, an easy-going 75-year-old. 

Rickman, a Watsonville native, came back to town in 1990 for family reasons. He started managing the and is proud of the old building. It survived the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake without a scratch.

"It was a well-built hotel," Rickman said. "The place was old, but it was clean."

He had left his first-floor room just before the fire started Monday, heading down the street in his pickup to get dinner at Subway. (Despite earlier reports, he had a salad, not a sandwich.) Leaving the fast food joint at the courthouse, Rickman saw the fire trucks scream out of Fire Station 1 and turn down Rodriguez Street toward the Stag Hotel.

At the time, he didn't think anything of it.

But moments later, Rickman's world changed. The fire trucks were parked near the 75-year-old hotel. The blaze spared Rickman's room, but consumed a lot of the building.

Rickman said he's not one to gossip and, despite the rampant speculation, will wait for the official fire department report.

Rickman praised the firefighters who battled the flames, as well as the Salinas police officers who were serving papers nearby and rushed to rescue residents. A merchant at the Discount Mall nextdoor even ran over with a ladder to reach an "older fella" on the second story who suffers from gout, Rickman said.

A few residents remain hospitalized, Watsonville Fire Chief Mark Bisbee said Thursday.

“We’re trying to keep up on patient updates and we’re still working on the investigation," Bisbee said. No one has died from injuries, he added.

"One guy got burned real bad," Rickman said, wondering aloud how that happened, given where the "happy, go-lucky" man's room was located in relation to the fire.

After thinking a moment, he decides "the fire was hot. It boiled the laquer on the doors."

The Stag Hotel houses about 50 men and two women in the main building and some apartments in the back.

"Contrary to everybody's popular belief, we don't have a lot of criminals in there. We don't have a lot of nuts in there," Rickman said.

Most of the residents have some medical issues and are low-income. Rent's reasonable and they have a housekeeper.

"Some of them's upset, obviously," Rickman said. "They don't understand it.

Rickman is taking them back to their rooms, one-by-one, to collect personal items. Walls are charred black, the power is cut to the building and the windows are boarded over with plywood.

"Everybody seems to be situated," Rickman said, though he expressed concern that some of the residents left homeless by the fire would soon be without a place to live. The Red Cross typically provides motel vouchers for three nights.

Contacted Thursday afternoon, a Red Cross spokeswoman acknowledged that the Stag Hotel fire was a unique situation, but she didn't know what if the housing vouchers had been extended beyond three days.

It will be months before the Stag Hotel reopens.

"It's rough. We're going to try to turn it around as soon as we can," Rickman said.

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Lucia May 04, 2012 at 03:51 PM
You can give to the Red Cross and specify that this is to assist with the Stag Hotel fire and they will use it for only that purpose. Like any other non-profit, they have to stretch their budget to cover the whole year, and in this case, may not have enough budgeted to do much more for the 40+ residents who were displaced.
randy May 04, 2012 at 04:26 PM
The Red Cross works with the displaced in those three days to make sure they have someplace to go. Time can be extended.
Parents of Alyssa May 04, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Is this guy at the villager?
Jennifer Squires May 04, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Yeah, it's near the friend's house he's staying at. Easy place to meet up with me, considering he doesn't have a home right now.
Gillian Whitehead June 24, 2012 at 11:26 AM
Hello, my name is Gill,and i am from England, i am hoping that someone can help myself and my Mother find the whereabouts of Raymond Summerhayes, our Son, and Brother, who was living in this hotel at the time of the fire, since the fire we have not heard from Raymond, and we are very worried, so if someone can supply us with some information, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. my e-mail address is; gill-whitehead@hotmail.com. and telephone number is International; 01245477512. Thank you so much.

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