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Aptos blaze devours two homes, two cars

Posted: Wednesday, Oct 9th, 2013

Cal Fire Capt. Stuart Carlson inspects the scene where a massive fire destroyed two homes, two cars and damaged a third home early Tuesday on Forest Park Lane off of Redwood Drive in Aptos Hills. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

APTOS HILLS — An early morning fire leveled two homes, destroyed two vehicles and blackened the face of a third home Tuesday in the hills above Aptos Village.

Cal Fire Capt. Stuart Carlson said he was on the first crew arriving and found two homes fully engulfed in flames and two propane tanks off-gassing in the middle of blaze. Before firefighters could get a handle on the fire the flames reached out into the surrounding trees and brush charring a large portion of the hillside neighborhood at the end of Forest Park Lane.

No injuries were reported.

“I was working on my computer at about 1:30 in the morning when I heard a weird noise,” said Seth Phillips, who rented a room in one of the homes that burned flat to the ground. “I opened my curtain and there was this wall of orange flames. I ran out of there and woke everyone up. Then I ran next door, because their house was catching on fire too. I banged on their door and everyone got out.”

Once firefighters started their attack they had to rotate water tender trucks back and forth from a hydrant to maintain a water supply, said Battalion Chief Jake Hess of Cal Fire.

“We did have hydrants in the area but they were not able to keep up with the flow that we needed,” Hess said. “I must say, Aptos/La Selva had one of the best structure protections I’ve ever seen. They made a decision to protect the one home that was just starting to catch on fire in a case of risk versus gain. With little space to work with, and the fire gaining strength, they quickly moved in and saved a home. The home had minimal damage. It was amazing.”

Indeed, the home of Beth Morrison emerged from the fire with blackened deck railings and roof eves, burnt wood siding and a few broken windows — superficial damage — with the overall structure saved.

“Once we realized what was happening we just grabbed our dog and got out of here,” Morrison said. “Everyone in the neighborhood raced down to the Post Office — it’s like an emergency meeting spot. It was freezing cold. Everyone was confused, not knowing how much was on fire. We got out before the fire reached our home. I feel lucky they managed to save my place.”

Aptos/La Selva Fire Chief Jeff Terpstra gave great credit to Capt. Mike Kretsch and Cal Fire volunteer Capt. Rocco Crisalli for spearheading the house save.

“They made a quick decision,” Terpstra, who served as operations chief at the incident, said. “They did it safely and they made the right decision. There was considerable risk. We could have backed out but we had two engines in place and two hose lines in place. There were flames 20 feet in the air and incredible heat. They used foam-laced water to bathe the side of the house facing the fire.”

The fire torched a Ford Focus and a Lexus with such ferocity that the aluminum tire rims melted away.

Elizabeth Rose said she lives about four doors away from the incident.

“I came out and saw the trees going up like a Roman candle,” she said. “I grabbed my dog. Everyone was running around knocking on doors. It was terrifying.”

Terpstra said access to the fire was difficult in that Redwood Drive is very narrow and windy. Incoming firefighters were faced with residents driving out of the area to escape the fire in the darkness.

“If there were the winds we had a few days ago I don’t think I would have a home,” said nearby resident Dave Steinbruner. "It’s the driest I’ve ever seen. The night sky lit up like a Christmas tree. It was incredible. Fortunately, we just did some clearing around out house. Everybody should do that. Everyone should have an escape plan and practice it regularly.”

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