RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Authorities are investigating Friday night’s fire that destroyed the Rio Rancho Country Club as a possible arson.
The mayor and neighbors are speaking out about the loss to their community.
While no one was injured, 50-foot flames engulfed the golf club, seen as far away as Corrales and Bernalilllo.
“I can’t believe it,” Dianna Montrose, who grew up in the area, said. “Just the way it looks. I mean, it’s gone gone.”
Blown out windows, charred walls and a collapsed roof are all that remains of the building.
“There is nothing left,” Montrose said. “It is really sad.”
Montrose and her mother, Maryann Folino, came Saturday to see the damage.
“We just came to say goodbye I guess,” Montrose said. “We grew up right here on the golf course. My home is here, and we have lived in this area since I was a little kid.”
Mayor Gregg Hull said it is a devastating loss for the entire community.
“The building has been around since close to the beginning,” Hull said. “They brought the golf course out here and the building. There has been weddings and birthdays here. There is a lot of history that ended with this building burning down.”
Rio Rancho Fire Department Deputy Chief Richard Doty said the 27,000 square foot building is a total loss, estimating more than $1 million in damages.
“This is the first time we have had a fire this size of a commercial building in Rio Rancho,” Doty said.
The building built in 1969 has been vacant for nearly three years.
The club was reportedly millions of dollars in debt and owed the city more than $350,000 in water bills and penalties. According to Hull, The $350,000 was paid off in full in June 2017.
“The building has been vacant for numerous years,” OSI special agent in charge Mark Torres said. “There is no fire or gas, which leads us to believe this is a highly suspicious fire.”
Investigators said it may take weeks to complete the investigation.
They said possible charges include arson and negligent arson.
The property’s new owner requested a zoning change that was approved earlier this year, but there were no plans mentioned specifically for the clubhouse.
Two ladder trucks, two rescue units, and two engines were on scene Friday night. Rio Rancho Fire said crews were dispatched around 8 p.m. after it appears the fire started near the Country Club ballroom.
Fire crews said it’s too early to tell how the fire started. Police said they’ve struggled with squatters and trespassers in the past.