Family watches house burn | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Family watches house burn

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

An electrical fire started by a fan destroyed a home Monday and left a South Lake Tahoe family in tears.

Denise Heller, straight from work at Safeway, pulled up in a blue Saturn around 11:45 a.m.

She saw smoke billowing from a back window and frantically told emergency workers: “That’s my house.”

The blaze started around 11:35 a.m. inside a three-bedroom home behind a dentist office on Emerald Bay Road.

Smoke was spotted behind the office by El Dorado County sheriff’s Detective Pat Tener as he drove to lunch. Thinking the house and office were attached, he bolted into the office and told everyone to get out.

Kristin Heller, Denise’s teen-age daughter, was at work inside the dentist office. She ran back to her house and unhooked Shep, the family dog, from the front porch. The smoke in the house was bad enough that she never tried to go inside.

Denise found her daughter, they hugged, and then watched the firefighters work.

“Are your school books in there?” Denise asked.

“Yes, everything’s in there,” Kristin said.

Kyle, Kristin’s brother, arrived and hugged his mom. He seemed calm arriving with a friend, Jim Gonzalez. Kyle kept an eye on Shep and later followed his mother into the house to check on the damage.

Kristin stayed behind.

“Want to go look?” Gonzalez asked her.

“Not really,” she said.

“Mom had a box of stuff, all baby pictures. And it’s gone. They went to look for it and it’s gone,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

“There was heavy damage to the one bedroom and living room and all the contents were smoke damaged, said South Lake Tahoe fire Battalion Chief John Lilygren.

“We don’t know if it was a short in the fan, but we know it caused the fire,” Lilygren said.

The blaze caused $50,000 in damage to the house and $10,000 in content damage.

“We actually knocked it down pretty fast,” Lilygren said. “(At first) no flames were visible from the back window, but when we opened the front door it got enough oxygen to reignite.”

South Lake Tahoe Fire Department sent three engines and 10 firefighters to extinguish the blaze. U.S. Forest Service firefighters fought flames at the rear of the house, making sure nearby pine trees didn’t burn.

Here are some fire safety tips:

— Check smoke detectors once a month; change batteries once a year.

— Have at least one smoke detector on every floor.

— Draw a floor plan. Make sure there are two ways to escape each room.

— Sleep with bedroom doors closed to keep heat and smoke out.

— If your house is on fire call 911 from outside the home.

— Keep candles and space heaters at least 3 feet from flammable material.

— Keep Halogen lights away from curtains or low ceilings and turn them off before you leave home.

— Never smoke in bed or when you are sleepy; cigarettes are the leading cause of fire death.

— Keep lighters and matches away from children.

— Extinguish a grease fire by cutting off its air supply.

— Don’t overload extension cords, replace cracked or frayed cords.


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