Oceanside CA— At 7:07 pm Thursday evening, August 4, 2016, a 9-1-1 caller reported smoke coming from the attic vents in their residence on Alberta Avenue in Oceanside. The first engine arrived on scene approximately 5 minutes later and found the adult male resident attempting to use a garden hose to extinguish what appeared to be an attic fire. Fire crews pulled hose lines to the front of the structure and began searching for the fire. The house is a small mid-century era home with an old style heavy clay tile roof with lathe and heavy plaster exterior and interior construction. These construction features made it difficult to quickly open a hole in the wall or roof and be able to see the fire.
When they were unable to locate the fire on their initial interior search, fire crews were sent to the roof to see if it was visible under the tiles. After carefully removing a section of tile, fire crews cut a small hole in the roof and were greeted with more smoke. However, the attic space was so small that a visual inspection could not be obtained. In an effort to not destroy the house searching for the fire, crews used a thermal imaging camera to try and “see” the heat from the fire and methodically cut small holes whenever they saw elevated temperatures. Unfortunately, the fire appeared to have been smoldering in the wall for an extended period of time and the wall showed heat in lots of places.
Thirty minutes after arrival, fire crews were finally able to track the fire to a section of the heavy plaster construction out by the front porch. The plaster was removed and extensive fire damage was found in a section of the wall. The fire was quickly extinguished and the area overhauled to ensure the fire did not rekindle.
An investigator from the Oceanside Fire Department responded to the scene in order to determine the cause of the fire. Due to the location of the fire in a fully enclosed wall, the investigator was able to identify the fire was accidental in nature. However, they were unable to determine an exact cause due to the extensive nature of the damage and the amount of evidence washed away by the water poured down the hole once the fire was located. Since there were no utility lines in the area of the fire, electrical or gas line malfunctions has been ruled out.
Damage has been estimated at $31,000 with $30,000 to the structure and only $1,000 to the contents. The low contents damage was due, in part, to the effort of firefighters to cover and move belongings before they began placing holes in the walls or ceilings.
Twenty firefighters on four engines, one truck, one ambulance responded to the incident with a Battalion Chief from Vista Fire Department providing mutual aid.