Creig P. Sherburne/Atascadero News • Atascadero City Fire Department workers assess the situation while fire engines are arranged to be as effective as possible.
ATASCADERO — More than 40 firefighters from at least seven San Luis Obispo firefighting agencies — not including paramedics and police — responded to a fire that destroyed or damaged six apartment units in Atascadero’s Bordeaux House apartment complex on Saturday.
There were only three reported injuries: one person cut his or her hand, one person suffered smoke inhalation and a third reported experiencing chest pain.
Atascadero City Fire personnel estimated the damage to the property to be around $575,000 and the content of the apartments to be about $120,000. Bordeaux House representatives said they are working on more accurate estimates, but they are not complete yet. Including those damaged on Saturday, Bordeaux House has a total of 400 apartment units, all of which a representative said are occupied.
AFD Captain Bill White said that, in total, four apartments were totally destroyed by the fire, two were damaged, and two were saved with only minor damage, if any.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but a press release issued by the department did say it began downstairs in one of the apartment’s patio areas. In addition, the investigation is being conducted by the San Luis Obispo County Fire Investigation Strike Team, not AFD.
In all, it took 12 fire engines, five command vehicles, two ladder trucks and one ambulance about one hour to extinguish the blaze.
“The problem with that kind of fire is the amount of work and time it takes to go through and find every piece of ember and extinguish it,” White said.
Part of the reason there were no casualties was because of Bordeaux House resident Dave Guerera, who lives a few buildings over from where the fire took place.
Guerera said he heard about the structure fire on his police scanner. His wife ran outside and confirmed the flames, so he followed.
“As I ran outside, I could see the black smoke over the buildings,” Guerera said. “I took off full speed, heard an explosion.”
He said that he supposes the explosion was a propane tank, used by an outdoor grill, but that could not be confirmed by press time as those details are still under investigation.
But as he headed to the front of the building, Geurera said a young man told him his mother was still inside one of the burning buildings.
Taking a fire extinguisher with him into the burning building, Geurera said he tried to keep the flames under control near the exit to the building so if the woman got near enough, she would have a safe avenue out.
“Finally, she shows, I see her 10 or so feet front the door. She seemed kind of disoriented,” Guerera said. “Finally, she got close enough, I grabbed her arm and helped get her out of there.”
All of that happened just as the first fire personnel showed up.
White confirmed the lack of serious injuries said that the fire required so much equipment and personnel for a few reasons. First, the apartment complex is a high-density area, so preventing the fire from spreading was important.
Next, the fire did indeed spread.
“What was a challenge on this fire, was it was an external fire,” White said. “The [interior] walls are designed to be one-hour firewalls.”
He said the fire also spread to neighboring units via the outside of the building and then into the attic space above the upstairs rooms. At least one firefighter had to break through the ceiling to see where the fire had gotten to.
Lastly, White said, the equipment firefighters wear is big and heavy and tiring to work in. That meant there needed to be enough workers to take over for exhausted firefighters who needed a break.
Paul Deis, the Red Cross’s director of emergency services for the Central Coast region, said that the organization has helped seven affected families, about 20 people in total.
“Our mission is to help people by ensuring their safety by providing a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food in their bellies,” Deis said.
He said that the Red Cross is all about helping people out of an immediate emergency, not providing long-term support. So with that, a roof, some clothes and some food in mind, the organization put many of those families into hotels, bought clothes and, in one case, replaced a young child’s crib and a car seat which were lost in the fire.
Deis said that at any type of emergency where homes and lives are at risk, the Red Cross will be nearby offering assistance.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, White said, and added that the investigators have “a lot of work to do.”
White stressed that if there’s a lesson to learn from this fire, it’s to check smoke detectors and change their batteries twice per year.
“Smoke detectors save lives,” White said.