San Ramon house fire controlled

March 24, 2009 11:51:55 AM PDT
San Ramon firefighters have controlled a fire that threatened the lives of dozens of animals. They say a house burned down under a bizarre set of circumstances. Some neighbors woke up and saw the flames.SIGN-UP: Get breaking news sent to you

Firefighters said they put out a fire at this same house a year ago last March, but it wasn't as severe as this one - which is estimated about a half million dollars of damage. Investigators say there was no electricity at this home last year, and still none this year. Some neighbors say the homeowners are going through difficult financial times.

Some neighbors woke up and saw the flames.

"Opened the window and boy there it was, there were flames coming out of the second story," said Jeff Sandoval, neighbor.

Others living next door to the burning home on Molina Court in San Ramon sprang into action.

"Went through the front door and put the fire out with a garden hose on the front step, you know on the stairway. And then part of the wall started falling in and it's time to get out," said Kim Fairbanks, neighbor.

Kim Fairbanks, a retired Oakland firefighter, says his training and instincts kicked into gear after a renter living in the home came knocking on his door to alert him to the fire - not sure if the homeowners were still inside.

"I kept yelling for Al and Lori - not knowing if they were in there or not. We just now found out they're not," said Fairbanks.

According to a residents' mother who showed up at the scene, it turns out the couple was walking two of their dogs when the fire broke out. But crews responding to the house fire from the San Ramon Valley Fire District didn't know that at first and when they arrived about 4:00 this morning, the second floor was already engulfed in flames. It instead turned into a rescue for a multitude of animals inside -- many cats escaped. Animal services brought out three dogs and a cage of reptiles.

"Some of those reptiles are probably pretty hardy and maybe some of them will survive," said Chief Richard Price, San Ramon Valley Fire District.

The issue now is what led to the fire. Investigators know the homeowners had been living for some time without electricity and using candles and a generator for power. Police had even been called out to the house last night on a noise complaint.

"So it's common for this house to have complaints about that generator running, and the officer did describe to me that he saw as many as 100 candles throughout the house," said Chief Price.

The couple who own this home, who was reportedly out on a walk, never showed up at the house since this fire happened. Investigators, even an agent from ATF, are inside looking into cause - including the possibility of arson.

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