More than five months after a fire destroyed the Sierra Motel, the cleanup is finally underway. Charred debris is slowly disappearing from the site across the street from Lovelock City Hall.

Lovelock Mayor Mike Giles said debris cleanup got started only after the city sent written notices and photographs of the debris to the motel owner in California who has not replied. If the debris cleanup is not completed in a timely manner, the city could eventually declare the rubble a nuisance, have the debris removed and place a lien on the property for the cost of the cleanup.

“The city has written letters to the owner wanting to know what his plans are,” Giles said. “We have not received anything back yet but there has been somebody over there cleaning some of it up. I did not see any equipment like a backhoe to remove it so I think they were cleaning up what they could...Why hold their feet to the fire when they are making some progress?”

The motel was closed for renovation when flames engulfed the building on the evening of February 12. Lovelock Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rod Wilcox said firefighters worked for hours to keep the fire from spreading to nearby homes and the adjacent Cadillac Inn. 

Chief Wilcox said the fire’s cause appeared to be accidental and there was no indication of possible arson. As a result, he did not call the state fire marshal’s office for an investigation.

An insurance company investigator later told Wilcox that an electrical short caused the fire. Wilcox did not know if licensed electrical contractors had been hired for the renovation project.

“From what he said, it was the wiring. A wire holder penetrated the wire and shorted it,” he said. “We figured it was electrical because that’s the only thing that was in there — the electrical wiring and they had been sweating copper tubing. They had just left to eat and then the fire started.”

Giles confirmed that the motel owner had a permit only for a new electrical service box. Other building permits and licensed contractors are normally required for commercial construction.

“That’s commercial property. All commercial property has to have a permit and be inspected,” he said. “But, the only permit they asked for here was for the electrical box on the outside of the building. That box was changed. We had to look at it and the power company had to look at it before the power company hooked up power so it must have passed inspection.”

Since the fire, most of the motel’s metal roof has collapsed making it a safety hazard for children playing in the area according to Lovelock resident Dan Harmer. He believes the fire could have been prevented if the motel owner had been required to hire a licensed electrical contractor. As former owner of the Sierra Motel, Harmer said he hired a licensed contractor to install the roof.

“The mayor should have stopped the work from happening because they (the Sierra Motel owners) were doing unlicensed work,” Harmer said. “The mayor refused to put an end to the unlicensed work being done. When I went over and told the mayor you are letting him do unlicensed work, and you guys wouldn’t let me do it, the mayor wouldn’t do anything about it.” 

Cadillac Inn owner Hilary Stokes said four of her motel rooms were damaged during the neighboring motel fire but she’s grateful that firefighters were able to save her business. 

“We’ve been having to repair the rooms ourselves — the water damage, the windows replaced, the carpet removed,” she said. “It’s been a major inconvenience but we are extremely thankful to the Lovelock volunteer fire department. They were able to save our building with a minimal amount of damage considering what could have happened. We are very thankful for them.”

Stokes said the debris is an eyesore that smells bad and she’s waiting for it to be removed.

“With them taking their time getting the debris cleaned up — the smell has been affecting our rooms, too,” she said. “I just hope they’re able to get it cleaned up and not leave it for years.”

Stokes said a licensed contractor will be hired to repair the roof of her motel but interior repairs such as painting, carpeting and panel restoration will not require licensed contractors. When the rooms are back in service, Stokes said she’ll have no trouble renting them out.

“There’s a wait list here and we’re trying to get everything put back together so we can get our rooms rented to customers that need them,” she said. “We know that there’s a need for them.”