Wild winds down power lines, cause fires at two Mariposa Drive homes
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: January 04, 2013
Wild winds are being blamed for downing power lines that ignited two Santa Paula house fires early Wednesday, an incident that caused a power outage for nearly 2,700 Southern California Edison customers.
According to Santa Paula Fire Chief Rick Araiza, gusting Santa Ana winds of up to 40 mph caused power lines to fall on homes located at 1350 Mariposa Drive and the neighboring 1354 Mariposa Drive at about 12:45 a.m. January 2. “We’ve had that line come down before and start a little tree fire, but this time it landed on two houses... it’s pretty amazing,” noted Araiza, “that nothing more happened,” although one residence did suffer “extensive” damage.
When the power lines landed on the residences and arced it made contact with the metal around the roofing and “charged everything in one house, everything blew up. In the second house” the charge jumped from metal bathroom plumbing to nearby toilet paper, which caught fire.
Araiza said Wednesday that residence was just “without power and water right now... and toilet paper,” while it is being examined for other damage that might have resulted from the power surges. The main thing was that “everybody got out okay.”
Captain Jerry Byrum said the call initially came in as a request for an investigation in the 1300 block of Ojai Road. “There was nothing we found while on scene there,” but Santa Paula Police Sgt. Jimmy Fogata arrived and said dispatch had received a call reporting a power line arcing on the roof of a Mariposa Drive residence in the 1300 block. When firefighters arrived on scene they found more SPPD personnel who had evacuated the residents at 1350 Mariposa Drive.
Byrum said responders had to be careful while they confirmed the location of the downed power lines that had started a fire in the attic. “We had a line popping up against the flashing around the chimney,” and the SPFD requested a “full structure response” for mutual aid.
Engines and fire personnel from Fillmore and Ventura cities as well as Ventura County all responded to the scene. At that point, “We had another SPPD officer approach us and he said the neighboring house” at 1354 Mariposa Drive “was also on fire,” although it turned out to be a blaze “that was controlled pretty easily once the power was turned off.”
Byrum said the live power lines had landed on a roof vent pipe of the second residence, “grounded through the entire plumbing system of the house and blew out under the bathroom sink.” There were also “a few hot spots in the attic and some points around the house where the grounded electrical surges blew out through the wall.”
The residence at 1350 Mariposa Drive had more significant damage, including to the attic and roof. The latter, said Byrum, was found to be “shingle on top of composite... and the fire was running through the air gaps between the two roofs. We had to spend time stripping the roof off after seeing little wisps of smoke. There was no active fire visible, but when we peeled back the first layer we found fire underneath” being fueled by the gusty winds.
Although Byrum said his “best estimate” of damage to 1350 Mariposa Drive “would probably be about $100,000, the structure was saved.” Damages to 1354 have not yet been finalized: “I have a rough estimate of $15,000 to $20,000 on that one,” which Byrum suspects could go higher as “some things might show up over time,” due to the electrical nature of the fire cause.
“There are some plumbing issues related to the fire being grounded through the pipes in the house, and there is water damage that wasn’t us.... When we first went in there was water in the entryway and hallway, we’re thinking probably from a burst pipe.”
Firefighting, he added, isn’t just using hoses: “We’re all about life, property and the environment.... The police did an excellent job of getting people out of the houses, we go in to do salvage operations even before the fire attack” to remove family belongings out of harm’s way.... Then we throw salvage covers throughout the house before pulling the ceiling down to gain access to the fire.”
All in all, Byrum said the damage “could have been a lot worse, and worse still” if a tragedy had occurred by anyone in either house touching anything energized by the electricity. He noted that when firefighters first arrived, “While we were checking out the first house the power line tried to reenergize... it’s pretty amazing how powerful electricity is when let loose.”
The smaller fire was “knocked down fairly quickly,” within about 15 minutes, and firefighters were able to declare the more serious fire controlled at about 2 a.m. Byrum said the second blaze was fully extinguished around 4 a.m.