Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Welding work sparks garage fire


Smoke poured from the windows and doors of a two-story home in the Westwood Hills neighborhood of Santa Barbara yesterday morning as firefighters battled flames sparked in the garage by a welding operation.
John Ahlman, a spokesman for the city’s fire department, said the owner of the home at 620 Flora Vista Dr. had been arc welding when he left the garage for a few moments.

Flammable material caught on fire and flames spread quickly. The owner attempted to douse the blaze by running a garden hose through the garage door, Ahlman said, but had his hair singed by the increasingly hot conflagration.
Fire crews got the call at 10:51 a.m. and arrived to find smoke billowing from the garage and home. After puncturing holes in the roof for ventilation, crews doused the garage with water, knocking down the flames within half an hour.
“I think it was pretty much confined to the garage,” said Ahlman. “…Basically, they were able to keep it from getting up the stairway into the rest of the home.”
No injuries were suffered during the incident. Authorities said the owners had located one cat and another was likely hiding.
Preliminary damage figures to the structure have been estimated at $10,000, Ahlman said. It was unclear how much damage a vehicle in the garage had sustained.
While flames didn’t make it into the home, authorities said it is likely not habitable due to a heavy smoke smell and roof damage.
“There is some smoke damage and I don’t know that they calculated that in,” Ahlman said.
Upon arrival, some crews headed to the garage to deal with the active flames while others clambered up ladders to the roof with chainsaws and pike poles to vent the structure.
Ahlman said venting is essential to allow hot gases and smoke to escape, giving firefighters a chance to attack flames from below.
“It’s kind of an art, to ventilate as your crews are coming into the fire area,” he said.
Approaching a garage fire is also a tricky situation, Ahlman said, explaining that firefighters never know what potpourri of paint, varnishes, gasoline, propane or other combustibles they might encounter.
“It’s one of the more dangerous fires that our crews go to,” he said.
Authorities had closed down Flora Vista Drive as firefighters started cleaning up and checking for hot spots by 11:30 p.m.
Gaining clear access to the garage proved somewhat difficult due to heat damage to the garage door springs. Crews sawed through sections of the door, finally pulling it clear after several minutes of cutting that had sparks flying onto the waterlogged floor.
“It’s a cautionary tale for people who are working in their garage with tricky work like that,” Ahlman said.

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