After Four Days, Fire Crews Extinguish the Fire Oceanside’s Historic Pier

By: Alyssa Miller | Last updated: May 01, 2024

On Thursday afternoon, flames engulfed the historic Oceanside Pier in southern California. The fire originated in a vacant restaurant at the end of the pier in North County San Diego.

Crews worked into the night to contain and fully extinguish the flames that burned on the 2,000-foot-long wooden pier.

Thursday Afternoon’s Fire

On Thursday afternoon, a fire broke out at the end of the pier. Videos of the fire quickly started appearing online, which showed how quickly the fire was spreading.

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The end of Oceanside pier on fire

Source: FOX 5 San Diego/YouTube

FOX 5 San Diego reports that residents in Vista, located 10 miles east of the pier, and Del Mar, located 20 miles south, could see smoke from the fire.

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Authorities Ask Citizens to Stay Away

The Oceanside Fire Department currently fights a fire on the Oceanside Pier,” the department stated on social media Thursday. “We are asking all citizens to please stay away from the immediate area.”

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A police officer walking through a glass door.

Source: Logan Waver/Unsplash

Crews worked overnight to extinguish the fire and reported no injuries. Now investigators are determining the cause of the large fire.

The Start of the Fire

The fire, which broke out around 3 p.m. PT at the end of the pier damaged both the structure of the wooden pier and the restaurant located there.

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A lifeguard stand on the sandy beaches in Carlsbad in the daytime.

Source: Aubrey Odom/Unsplash

A lifeguard spotted the fire near the building that once was Ruby’s Diner. Soon after people spotted the fire, images and videos flooded social media showing a large black plume of smoke coming from the end of the iconic pier.

Over 206 Responders Arrive on the Scene

The Oceanside Fire Department responded to the scene quickly and started to fight the blaze from the ground. The U.S. The Coast Guard assisted the fire department from the water, while the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection assisted from a helicopter.

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A firefighter fighting the fire at the end of the Oceanside Pier

Source: FOX 5 San Diego/YouTube

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that 144 firefighters, 30 lifeguards, and 32 police officers were on the scene.

The Fire Seemed to Be Out by Midnight

By 6 p.m., crews had largely contained the fire at the end of the pier. However, they worked late into the night to ensure complete extinguishment of the fire.

The empty resturant at the end of the Oceanside Pier surrounded by smoke

Source: FOX 5 San Diego/YouTube

At 11:25 p.m., the crew announced that the fire was extinguished. The beach around the pier remains closed from the pier south to Tyson Street “to keep the community safe from any debris that washes up,” the fire department said on Facebook.

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The Fire Was Out By Monday Morning

While firefighters announced that the fire had been put out close to midnight, the fire continued to burn for several days. Fire officials in Oceanside announced in a press conference on Monday morning that the fire was officially out.

Fire Fighter Wearing Black and Yellow Uniform Pointing for Something

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

“There is no more damage being done to the pier,” Oceanside Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Jess Specht said.

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Fire Crews Prevented the Fire From Spreading

To prevent the fire from spreading further down the pier, fire officials put a “trench cut” in the deck, which means they removed a section of the pier to allow crews to access flames burning underneath the wood while preventing the fire from spreading.

Fireman Holding Fire Hose

Source: Tim Eiden/Pexels

Fire crews worked around the clock for nearly four days to put the fire out.

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Fire Officials Believe It was an Accidental Fire

Even though the flames and lingering embers were extinguished, fire officials were unable to identify the definitive cause of the pier fire by Monday morning.

A burned down restaurant at the end of a pier in Oceanside

Source: Sparrke Insta/Facebook

OFD Fire Chief David Parsons believes that the fire was most likely accidental. “No evidence of an incendiary or intentional act was found,” Parsons said.

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The Damage Left Behind

Officials stated that the fire caused “significant damage” to the closed diner and that the structural support underneath the Brine Box could be at risk.

A wooden pier at sunset

Source: Mark Neal/Pexels

Power to the pier is currently out. Crews have placed warning lights along the edge of the pier to alert boats so they don’t run into it.

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Arson Was Ruled Out

Since the fire, investigators have ruled out arson as the possible cause of the fire, according to NBC San Diego. This decision was made based on where the fire started and how it caused extensive damage.

A pelican sitting on the edge of a pier next to a long fire hose in Oceanside, CA

Source: Oceanside Fire Department/Facebook

The damage to the pier has forced the indefinite closure of the landmark in the northwestern coastal town of San Diego County.

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No Evidence of Foul Play

Parsons and other fire officials assumed that the fire was an accident based on canines, reports, videos, interviews, and fire dynamics research.

A fire burning at the end of Oceanside pier

Source: Oceanside Fire Department/Facebook

“And everything leads us to believe, based on canine [searches], reports, videos, witness interviews, fire dynamics, which is how fire moves, and then also patterns that we see in the structure … that an incendiary liquid, which could be indicative of potential arson — none of that’s present,” Parsons said.

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Fire Started By a Possible Electrical Error

Now, investigators are working to determine what the cause of the fire was. “One prevailing theory suggests that an electrical heat source may have ignited the fire.

Close-Up Shot of Black Electric Wires

Source: Markus Winkler/Pexels

Video evidence and witness interviews suggest that the fire started on the northwest side of the pier next to the former Ruby’s Diner site.

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The Fire Seemed to Not Start In Ruby's Diner

Parsons emphasized that the former Ruby’s Diner, which has become as iconic as the pier itself, was not destroyed by the fire despite the roof collapsing.

The inside of a '50s themed diner at the end of a California pier

Source: 1Flatworld/Flickr

“Definitely not derelict, definitely not abandoned, just in a closed state awaiting permits and plans to get a new tenant into the space. Smoke alarms did activate in the Ruby’s. Sprinkler system did activate in the Ruby’s. Again, those are interior life safety systems not designed to stop a fire that’s coming from the exterior,” Parsons said.

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A Formal Report Is Underway

Everything around the hammerhead area, or the end of the end of the pier, appears to have sustained “significant damage” from the fire, according to the fire chief. The pier’s decking and structure, the restaurant, and the small kiosk eatery took the most damage from the blaze.

An image of several doctors looking over reports during a meeting

Source: Freepik

A formal report on the investigation has yet to be released to the public. This report should come in a matter of weeks, according to Parsons.

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No One Was Injured By the Fire

Currently, Ruby’s Diner site was undergoing renovations at the time the pier fires started, according to city officials.

Yellow Hard Hat on Brown and Yellow Fireman's Suit

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

The former Ruby’s Diner was vacant at the time of the fires. According to Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez , all employees at the nearby Brine Box were accounted for, and no injuries were reported.

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Brine Box Expresses Their Grief

Brine Box, a fish restaurant near the end of the pier, seems to have also caught on fire. The restaurant posted an update on social media, writing: “What’s happening on the pier is sad and scary. We want you to know that our team is safe.

Source: Brine Box/Facebook

The post continued: “From what we have heard the fire started under the pier, and everyone made it off ok. We will keep you updated as we learn more. Thank you for all of your kind words of support. We appreciate you all so much.”

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The History of the Pier

The builders constructed the Oceanside Pier in 1888, and it quickly gained fame as the longest wooden pier on the western United States coastline.

A lithograph of the Oceanside Pier in 1888

Source: Oceanside Historical Society Collection

The pier was one of the most popular places in the city, allowing people to fish and enjoy leisurely walks while admiring the spectacular coastline near San Diego.

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The Sixth Time the Pier Has Been Destroyed

This isn’t the first time that the historic pier has encountered misfortune. According to VisitOceanside, the city’s tourism bureau, the structure has been destroyed and rebuilt five times.

Oceanside 2nd pier under construction in 1894

Source: Oceanside Historical Society collection

The raging sea, in which the pier stands, caused a majority of its destruction, and the current structure dates back to 1987.

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The Importance of the Pier 

The pier has been the backdrop for the coastal city since its opening day in 1888. According to the city, the pier has been the site of Oceanside events such as surf competitions and concerts.

Oceanside Pier from the beach at sunset

Source: Joe Wolf/Flickr

Investigators and the city have not yet identified the cause of the fire, nor have they determined a reopening date for the pier as they attempt to assess the extent of the damage caused by the blaze.

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Residents Are in Disbelief

One user on X, formerly called Twitter, recalled taking trips to Oceanside to eat at the 1950s-style diner. “I remember how it would rock and sway with the waves,” the user wrote. “Totally trippy experience but cool.”

The Oceanside pier at sunset

Source: Greg Jordan/Flickr

Residents of Oceanside express their grief over the damaged pier. “I’m devastated right now,” Richard Sonayda said. “I surfed and fished on the pier when I was a little boy.”

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Oceanside Mayor Speaks on the Pier’s Future

Sanchez said at a press briefing about the fire that the damage done will be a blow for the city as the summer months approach. However, she will be putting effort into rebuilding the pier as soon as possible.

The end of the fire burning at the end of the Oceanside pier

Source: Oceanside Fire Department/Facebook

“This is a very, very critical pier for us,” Sanchez said at a press briefing. “It’s iconic for Oceanside.”

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The Pier Remains Closed to the Public

While the pier remains closed to the public for the time being, city officials state that they are working to get the pier reopened as soon as possible.

Underneath Oceanside Pier at sunset

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“With that being said, as soon as possible, we are going to reopen the pier to the public, and we should have 75 percent of this pier back open to the public as quickly as possible,” said OFD Division Chief Community Risk Reduction Blake Dorse.

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Most of the Pier Survived the Fire

The city is working with contractors on installing temporary fencing to block off the damaged end of the pier. This would allow residents, tourists, and other businesses to come back to the pier.

The entrance to the Oceanside Pier on a sunny day

Source: Bennilover/Flickr

Roughly 95 percent of the pier remains intact, which means that only the hammerhead end will need to be rebuilt.

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