Santa Paula Times

(Photo above left) Ventura County Firefighters climbed onto the roof at 222 South 8th Street to cut holes in the roof. It wasn’t long before flames jumped through the roof and the firefighters climbed down to safety. (Above right) Firefighters begin bringing out contents of the house trying to save as much as possible. Most of the contents of the first floor were retrieved and placed on the sidewalk for safety. A Ventura County ladder truck was pressed into service trying to get a handle on the fire that engulfed the second story of the South 8th Street house. Above (photo bottom left), the ladder was extended over the house with a firefighter trying to put out flames. Firefighters from all over Ventura County assisted Santa Paula with the house fire on South 8th Street. Above (bottom right), firefighters take a break and regroup after being ordered out of the structure because the roof was about to collapse. (Photos by Don Johnson)

Fire destroys house on South 8th Street

March 20, 2009
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesA vintage two-story Victorian residence that recently underwent renovation to become home to a women’s rehabilitation program caught fire Tuesday, displacing 10 people and leading to an aggressive fire fight by departments from throughout Ventura County. The cause of the fire, reported at 4:24 p.m. March 17, was electrical, according to Santa Paula Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Fildes.The fire at the home, located on the 800 block of South 8th Street, was reported as “fully involved,” and Fildes said he “arrived on scene probably two minutes after the initial dispatch. I reported it as a working fire and requested additional resources.”Jessie Garcia, the manager of the program operated by Services United, said residents were on the first floor of the house when a neighbor “let us know there was a fire.” Everyone left the home, as did the residents of the homes located south and north of the Victorian.The renovation on the approximately 3,700 square foot six-bedroom residence, according to Services United Executive Director Benito Juarez, had been completed in September.About a dozen engines from the Santa Paula, Ventura County, City of Ventura and City of Fillmore fire departments responded to the scene, closing down 8th Street between East Harvard Boulevard and East Ventura Street. Fildes said more than 40 firefighters were involved in the blaze, which jumped from area to area inside the house.“The house was built in 1910 and what is called balloon construction. That means there are no fire stops in the walls” and the structure is open all the way to the attic.Smoke poured out of the roof, and dozens of people watched the afternoon blaze from the sidewalk, including 7-year-old Andrew Ramos. “It’s hot!” he exclaimed over the sound of numerous activated smoke detectors inside the burning house. “What’s the smoke for?”The smoke came in waves as the firefighters fought it in different areas of the house until they were all ordered out when the roof began to collapse. Once firefighters were able to take control of the blaze the house was sprayed with fire retardant foam, the same material used to earlier protect the roofs of neighboring houses, where residents used garden hoses to wet down their structures.Early on program manager Garcia said the fire started when an electrical outlet in the second story kitchenette burst into flames. “There was nothing plugged in,” she added, “no appliances.”
Fildes said the cause of the fire was found to be “electrical that started in the attic area above the kitchen on the first floor, in the little enclosed space above it” common in Victorian houses. “The occupants had smelled burning and thought it was the barbecue next door, probably 45 minutes to an hour before the actual fire,” as the electrical short smoldered in the enclosed area built with lathe and plaster.“You wouldn’t see the smoke and it wouldn’t set off the fire alarms until later,” and Fildes said as the fire spread through the wall up into the main attic it ignited the electrical outlet in the second story kitchenette along the way. “Then someone knocked on the door and said hey, your house is on fire.”Fildes said, although the fire was unfortunate, “We’re thankful that it didn’t happen at night and that they had functioning smoke detectors in place. But the biggest problem at night is they might not have had alert neighbors” or passersby to sound the alarm as the fire burned longer.“The way the fire was, it could have burst through walls and then it’s too late.... The smoke detectors didn’t go off until the fire came inside the home, but fires in these older homes burn real quick and they get bigger real quick.”The residents, seven adult females, two infants and a 3-year-old, “were all home” when the fire broke out, and they were put up in a local motel by the American Red Cross.Most engines cleared the scene by about 10:40 p.m. Tuesday, but 8th Street remained closed until noon on Wednesday. Fildes said estimated damage to the structure is $250,000, and $50,000 to the contents.“The women were left with nothing,” said Santa Paula Fire Department Chaplin Kay Wilson-Bolton, who asked those with unwanted clothes for two new newborns, 3-year-old girl, and women sizes 12 to 16 can drop them off at Century 21 Buena Vista Real Estate, 123 N. 10th Street. Monetary donations in care of SPIRIT of Santa Paula can also be sent to the address.Also needed are three car seats, hair dryers and a suitcase, among other items. Call 340-5025 for more information or to arrange for donation pickup.