Photo by Bruce Dembecki
The incident started before midnight when a SJPD cruiser noticed a car coming the other way without headlights. When the Police cruiser did a U turn to investigate, the car took off, loosing control as it rounded the corner, and smashing through one home's garage (which collapsed) and crumpling against the wall of the next house. In the process, the car sheared off the gas supply for both houses, before the meters, so there was no gas cut off point.
At this point, the wreckage and the gas combined and the gas ignited. The gas fed fire quickly spread to both homes. Police officers were immediately on scene and were able to get the four occupants out of the car, and evacuate the residents from both houses. In the process of effecting the rescue, one Police officer received minor injuries, and one of the juveniles in the car also required hospitalization.
Fire crews arrived on scene to find both houses fully engulfed in flames, with the two gas mains causing additional problems. The area between the two houses was compromised because of the collapse of the first house, the debris from the accident and the gas lines.
Crews struck a second alarm and worked to prevent the spread of the fire to additional properties. PG&E was summoned to the scene. With the vehicle and residences already evacuated, fire crews decided to contain the blaze to the affected buildings and wait for PG&E.
When PG&E arrived, it was clear they could not control the flow of gas in the debris field as the lines were broken before the cutoff valves. More resources were called and PG&E set about digging up the street to find the gas feed for the homes and cut it off in the street.
This was clearly going to take time. San Jose Fire Commanders summoned additional resources to the scene, including the HIT units due to the Hazmat nature of the call, the Air unit and Fire Associates. With the 2nd alarm, and numerous Special Calls, there were 22 Fire Dept. units dispatched to the scene.
Upon receiving the 12:55 A.M. page out, Fire Associates member Bruce Dembecki responded to the incident, collecting Fire Support Unit 2 from San Jose Fire Station 6, and reporting on scene at 01:25 AM.
FSU 2 was used to establish a Rehab sector across from the inferno. A range of hot and cold drinks were made available along with snacks. County EMS crews set up to do Formal Rehab and monitor firefighter vitals. while the crews cycled through Rehab to recuperate and prepare for the next round of the fire fight.
Once the gas was cut off, fire crews could begin a more aggressive attack. The debris field between the houses and the collapsed garage of the first house continue to present a challenge to fire crews, as the area was clearly not safe. The attic fire burning unchecked in the second house for so long meant that roof was unstable and likely to collapse. These factors all combined to mean the fire fighting effort was restricted to a defensive operation, fighting the fire from the outside - entering the buildings wasn't safe.
Eventually, the fires were extinguished and weary crews were released. One home was extensively damaged in the incident, the second was completely destroyed. Two firefighters received minor injures during the incident.
Fire Support Unit 2 was released from the scene around 4:30 A.M. was back in quarters by 4:45 A.M.
- Bruce's photos can be viewed at: Bluefield Drive Fire