When one hikes the boondocks, one is bound to come across ruins, sometimes historic ruins, such as the Dyar House.
The first time I saw them, I was far away and didn’t have time to try to find my way to them, so I just zoomed in with my camera and took a picture. For several years I forgot about them.
Then, a couple of years ago when I went out to the mountains to check out this stuff called “snow” that is so popular in northern climes, I discovered them again. I parked as close as I could get and walked—in snow! I actually walked in snow!—the rest of the way.
I now know the ruins are of the Dyar House, built in 1923 by Ralph and Helen Dyar, who owned the Rancho at the time. It was to be their getaway home from the stress of living in Beverly Hills where their main home was. Designed by Los Angeles Architect Arthur E. Harvey, the Dyar House was built for $35,000. Don’t see prices like that anymore, and they certainly don’t build them like they used to.
The two-story house featured 2,100 square feet, six bedrooms, and two full bathrooms. Featured in the house was native stone from the ruins of a nearby ranch cabin built in the 1850s, beams from the Stonewall Mine complex built in the 1880s , and a rustic style to blend in with the natural world around it. The Dyar Estate, named Cuyamaca Rancho, also included a pool, a stable, a generator house for power, a water pump, and a garage where their Cadillacs and chauffer resided. The basement had a wood-burning furnace with the heat being pumped into each room through vents. The Dyars entertained while at the ranch; regular guests included Will Rogers and actor Leo Carrillo, who also had a ranch in San Diego County.
The Dyars sold Cuyamaca Rancho to the State of California in 1933, accepting a small sum while donating about half the value of the Rancho to the State. The house became the headquarters of the new Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. In has served at various times as the Park’s headquarters, a residence, and a museum.
So why was this historic home allowed to fall into ruins like this? Well, in actuality, it wasn’t “allowed to fall into ruins.” Mother & Father Nature got angry one day in 2003 and sent a huge fire through this area. Here in California, wildland fires are so common that we name them, kind of like naming hurricanes.
The fire that destroyed this home was named the Cedar Fire. It started on October 25, 2003, and was 100% contained by November 5, 2003. It burned 280,278 acres, including all 24,700 acres of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and holds the record as the largest wildland fire in the history of California. Along with that dubious distinction, it killed 14 people, including one firefighter; and destroyed 2,232 homes. Irreplaceable museum artifacts also were lost.
Investigators determined that the fire was started by Sergio Martinez, a novice hunter who had been hunting in the area and had become lost. Martinez initially lied about how the fire started but eventually admitted that he started the fire intentionally to signal rescuers. Martinez quickly lost control of his signal fire because of the heat, low humidity, and low moisture content of the surrounding vegetation.
According to Wikipedia, “Martinez was charged in federal court on October 7, 2004 with setting the fire and lying about it. In November 2005, a [U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez] sentenced Martinez to six months in a work-furlough program and ordered him to complete 960 hours of community service. He also was sentenced to five years’ probation and to pay $9,000 in restitution. As part of the plea bargain, prosecutors dropped the charge of lying to investigators.”
Judge Benitez noted in his decision that Martinez, by setting signal fires, was doing exactly what he had been taught in a hunter safety course. Benitez ordered that the community service should be done with Habitat for Humanity, or a fire agency, or any project involving rebuilding of homes destroyed by the Cedar fire.
Martinez, who worked for a home developer, had begged for leniency, saying that he panicked when he became separated from his companion on a deer hunting trip in the backcountry of northern San Diego County. He said he became dehydrated and desperate and was afraid he might die. He set the fires in hopes his companion would find him. “I didn’t want my body to be found in a ravine,” said a crying Martinez. “The thirst was sucking the life out of me.” Federal prosecutors said there was no statute that would allow them to charge Martinez with murder or manslaughter in the 14 deaths.
The remains of the Dyar House have been stabilized with the intent to rebuild it someday.