14-Year-old charged with country club fire

INVERNESS – Residents and members watched arm and arm in the parking lot or from grassy seats on the nearby golf course as flames consumed Inverness Country Club Monday afternoon.

“It’s emotional when you’ve been a member of a club for 32 years and it burns down,” said long-time member Jim Baxter, who saw the ominous smoke clouds on his way home. “It’s a place we grew up. We have a lot of memories there.”

Owner Bill Ochsenhirt said one of his employees first alerted him to the smell of smoke around 1:15 p.m. About that same time, fire alarms started blaring and Ochsenhirt evacuated the building.

Fortunately, he said, the usually packed clubhouse contained only himself and five or six staff members; it is closed to club members on Mondays. A golf tournament had just started, but all the players were already on the golf course. “By the grace of God,” he said, no one was hurt.

The investigators from the Hoover Fire Department ruled late Tuesday morning that the fire, which began in the attic, was no electrical accident, as Ochsenhirt had guessed.

“It was arson,” said Hoover fire inspector Lt. Duke Moore. “We have a 14-year-old male juvenile in custody, and we’re still investigation some other leads to see if there was anybody with him.”

The young teen was arrested Monday evening.

Hoover Battalion Chief Rob Trautwein, still at the scene late Monday night after a grueling battle, said it took the crew an hour and a half to get the blaze under control. “One thing that made it hard is in most buildings, we can pull the sheet rock ceiling to get to the fire in the attic,” Trautwein said. The Inverness clubhouse, though, had plywood and tongue and groove ceiling. “We could not penetrate from below,” he said.

He also said the fire had such a head start, it was difficult to catch up. More than 30 firefighters flooded the scene, Trautwein said, with 20 coming from Hoover Fire Department and about a dozen from North Shelby.

During efforts to control Monday’s fire, two Hoover firefighters were taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion and another was treated on site with IV fluids. Trautwein said those affected were OK and home with their families by that evening.

Though the 17,000-square-foot building is gone, Ochsenhirt and club members remain mostly upbeat.

“The good news is no employees or members were hurt,” Ochsenhirt said. “We lost a building, but we didn’t lose the heart and soul of the club.”

Charter member Don O’Cain, whose granddaughter recently held her wedding reception in the clubhouse, said Monday night he still planned to make his usual Tuesday tee time.

“We hate to see it destroyed like this, but I guess one good thing is the owner … was planning to remodel the clubhouse,” O’Cain said.

Ochsenhirt, who said the remodel was not planned till 2008, laughed slightly and said, “Well I guess we’re getting stared a little earlier than we had planned.