Passers-by help battle house fire
July 17, 2009
Wisps of smoke and the slight flicker of flames coming from inside a home are rarely signs of good things to come, but these initial indications of a structure fire led one group of Lake Tahoe visitors to sound the alarm.
Los Gatos resident Eric Harris, his uncle Tim, his brother Matt, his cousin Nick and family friend David Creel were headed out from the Tahoe Keys for some tubing near Camp Richardson about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon when they noticed the telltale signs of a structure fire at a house at 2023 Kokanee Way.
A jet skier who had also seen the smoke coming from the top story of the house rushed to the scene and called 911, and the Harrises quickly docked and banged on the door to let the lone occupant of the house know about the fire. The resident – a man who was recovering from kidney surgery – was unaware of the fire until the group knocked on his door, Eric Harris said.
As the rest of the group notified neighbors and helped the man retrieve belongings from the house, Eric and Tim began trying to hold off the blaze, Harris said.
Dressed in board shorts and flip-flops, Tim and Eric ran pots of water from the first floor of the home to the second in a futile attempt to keep the flames from spreading from the top story room, Harris said.
But by the second trip up the stairs, smoke in the room had reached from the ceiling down to waist level and the heat was becoming intense, Harris said.
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Although Harris said he hadn’t ever experienced anything like Saturday’s fire, he noted he and his brother teach disaster preparedness as part of the Los Gatos Community Emergency Response Team.
And with the fire spreading and smoke inhalation a growing concern, the pair made the decision it was time to get the rescue crew out the house. The evacuation was followed shortly by the arrival of firefighters, Harris said.
“On arrival, firefighters discovered a three-story, single-family residence with the back side of the roof involved in fire; the fire was also moving into the attic and third floor interior of the residence at this time,” according to a press statement from the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department.
Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the blaze, but not before it caused an estimated $140,000 worth of damage to the house and its contents, according to the statement.
Although the cause of the fire remained under investigation, Harris said it appeared a top floor observation deck may have been where the fire started.
Before extinguishing the blaze, firefighters accidentally gave Harris and company a fitting send off.
The initial blast from firefighters’ hoses missed the house and nailed the good Samaritans as they departed via boat. But the group took the blast in stride, with Harris calling the unexpected dousing a “nice shower.”