Artist Studios Burn - Albuquerque Journal

Artist Studios Burn

Santa Fe firefighter cadets and trainers remove paintings from the smoldering ruins of West Side Studios on Friday. Photo Credit – Eddie Moore/Journal

An early morning fire Friday destroyed part of a compound on West Alameda that has been used by local artists for more than half a century. While no one was hurt during the blaze at West Side Studios, several people were forced to evacuate their homes or studios while firefighters cleaned up.

“This is the last bastion of old Santa Fe – the only affordable artists’ space that’s left,” said Glynis Kevan, who alerted her neighbors to the blaze about 3 a.m. “I don’t know what’s going to happen now.”

The fire apparently originated in a vacant unit that was being used for storage. That unit was destroyed and an adjacent apartment was extensively damaged.

Santa Fe Fire Department Battalion Chief Paul Babcock said the cause of the fire is unknown and is under investigation. He said the call came in at 3:09 a.m. and it only took a few minutes for firefighters to arrive.

“When the first unit arrived, it was fully involved,” Babcock said of the stuccoed structure. “There were flames shooting up 40 feet into the air.”

Babcock said five firetrucks and two aerial units capable of dousing the building from above were used to battle the blaze.

“The first arriving crew went into defensive mode, because the fire compromised the integrity of the building and they weren’t able to get inside. There was a lot of risk,” Babcock said. “There were a lot of hazards firefighters had to deal with – propane bottles and a ruptured gas meter in back.”

Babcock said the fire was contained within a half hour and extinguished by 8:30 a.m.

“There were many hot spots due to the heavy fire load,” he said.

Babcock said six apartments or studios were affected, and the Red Cross was assisting two people with shelter.

Ron Deutsch is owner of the property, made up of 18 units artists used as homes and studios.

“It’s been an artist compound for 50 years. It’s a low-rental studio for young artists getting started,” Deutsch said, adding that such renown artists as Kevin Red Star and Earl Biss used to be residents. “People who live there are like a big family.”

Deutsch said he, too, was awoken by Kevan’s knock on his door.

“I came out, scouted the property and grabbed a hose, but, my God, that thing was burning,” he said.

Deutsch said the unit where the blaze began hadn’t been occupied for several years. It was being used to store jewelry-making equipment, he said.

Kevan’s house guest was first to notice the blaze.

“The only thing that woke me up was the light,” Marianne Macres said. “I thought, ‘That ain’t right. It’s dark outside, why is there light?’ Then I looked outside and saw the flames.”

Macres woke up Kevan and called 911.

“I ran over to Felix’s place and started banging on his door,” Kevan said. “The fire had already gone across the whole top of the building.”

Felix Voltsinger said he was asleep when he heard a banging on the door and his neighbor yelling, “Fire!”

“I got out a few valuables, but 20 seconds later I couldn’t get back inside,” said Voltsigner, a landscape artist who teaches art classes at Santa Fe Community College. “There was smoke everywhere and flames were above the roof.”

Voltsinger said he lost almost everything in the fire. All he has left are the few things he was able to salvage and the clothes on his back.

“I’m going to have to go to Walmart and get some clothes,” he said, sitting on an ice chest outside his partially charred home. “The personal stuff I don’t care about, but the artwork. … If I can’t work, I can’t sell anything.”

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