Deck fire sparked by barbecue coals displaces 5 residents

November 4, 2012 2:55:52 PM PST
A barge crew turned into a firefighting team after they helped extinguish an apartment fire Saturday morning.

The fire started at an apartment complex on Canal Street in San Rafael.

The crew has been clearing out silt from this canal for the last three months. When they spotted the flames they moved the whole barge next to the burning apartment complex and used everything they had on board to help put out the fire.

Nearby residents, Joan Clemmons and her son Michael saw the fire from their backyard. "We just saw the apartment over there with the flames pouring out of the apartment and onto the deck and up through the roof." Clemmons said.

They watched as a crew of a dredging barge made every effort to put the fire out. "He put the bucket down and he was scooping up water from the canal floor trying to reach the deck so he can put the fire out." Clemmons said.

However, in the video shot by Clemmons' son you can see they couldn't reach the fire, so they changed tactics. "We tried digging our way in and well we kind of did dig our way in. Got the barge up on the mud with the excavator so we can reach the hose," Barge Captain Christian Bernt said.

The water they sprayed quickly started dousing the flames and within minutes a San Rafael fire team started attacking the blaze from inside the apartment. No one was injured, but five residents are now displaced and the Red Cross is putting them up in nearby rooms.

Only two apartments were damaged, thanks to the quick work of the dredging group. "They did an amazing job getting as close as they did with the dredger that they had and actually getting some water on there," San Rafael Fire Deptartment official Paul Bowermaster said.

When ABC7 News talked to the guys on the barge, they were pretty nonchalant about their efforts. "All I can say is that I'm glad that we were here and able to help," Bucket Operator Justin Tapan said.

When it was all over they went back to dredging the canal and carting out the sludge, but the neighborhood gave them a round of applause for their efforts to help put out the fire. "These guys are just awesome. This was very traumatic and we're really proud of them," one neighbor said.

The timing for the crew was pretty good because they wrapped up their dredging job Sunday. If the fire would've broken out anytime thereafter they may not have been there and things may not have turned out so well.


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