Calif. Chief Leaves News Conference to Battle Fire

SALINAS, Calif. --

A Salinas fire chief was holding a news conference about the need to hire more firefighters when a blaze ignited at a house a few blocks away Monday.

Speaking to a group of reporters during a weekly news conference in front of Sherwood Hall, Fire Chief Jesse Pinon called for the Salinas city council to apply for a $3-million federal grant that would fund hiring 12 more firefighters over the next two years.

As Pinon spoke, a fire ripped through a house at 253 Douglas Ave. in Salinas just after 10:30 a.m.

The fire chief excused himself from the news conference, pulled on his fire gear and hurried with several other firefighters to battle the blaze.

Officials said the fire was caused by a candle that the homeowner lit in a window. The window was open, and a breeze blew curtains into contact with the candle's flame. The blaze spread through the house.

Instead of calling 911, the homeowner tried to put the fire out herself, fire officials said. As a result, fire and smoke destroyed most of the home's interior and the roof before firefighters were finally alerted.

No one was injured, and four people were left homeless by the fire.

Irony aside, the Salinas fire chief said Monday's house fire highlights the need for more firefighters.

"During the course of this fire, all Salinas fire units were committed to other calls," Pinon said. With no other units available to fight the two-alarm fire, firefighters said the blaze could have spread to other homes.

Recent staff reductions have lead to a jump in overtime and work-related injuries. Salinas' 23 firefighters have racked up more than $1.5 million in overtime so far in 2011, Pinon said.

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