SAN PABLO --
Two firefighters were killed by a 'flash over' early Saturday as they raced through a burning San Pablo home, trying to rescue two elderly residents who also perished in the blaze, authorities said.
The men had responded as members of a truck crew to a report of a single-story, single-alarm house fire at 149 Michele Drive at around 1 a.m. When they arrrived, the chief said, the home was fully engulfed.
Two firefighters raced into the structure, looking for the two residents who were in their 60s. They found one of the body, but it was during the search for the second that the fatal 'flash over' or back draft exploded in the back of the structure and overwhelmed the men in a ball of fire, killing them.
Other crews rushed to the scene and brought the fire under control and undetook the grim task of recovering the bodies.
The fire remained under investigation.
The two men were the first Contra Costa Fire Protection District firefighers in history to ever die while fighting a fire.
Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Captain Matt Burton, 34, of Concord, and Fire Engineer Scott Desmond, 37, of Brentwood, died after becoming trapped inside the burning home, county fire spokeswoman Emily Hopkins reported. Both elderly residents also died.
Burton and Desmond were members of the district's Station 70 in San Pablo, county fire Chief Scott Richter said.
Firefighters were able to pull one of the two elderly residents from a bedroom of the home before returning to retrieve the second person, Richter said. At that point heat inside the home became so intense that the bedroom suddenly burst into a ball of flames, in what Richter called a "flashover."
Both firefighters were declared unaccounted for following the flashover. "They did not make it out," Richter said.
Richter said this is the first time the district has lost any firefighters in the line of duty.
"This is a devastating loss for the district and the families," Richter said. "We're trying to offer as much support as we can to the families."
Both Burton and Desmond were wearing what Richter called "structure response gear," designed to protect them from intense heat, but not necessarily the intensity of direct flames.
Richter said there was nothing irregular with the fire district's response or approach to the rescue.
"A structure can only heat up to a certain point before it explodes into flames," Richter said.
The charred remains of the home, located at 149 Michele Drive, lay behind a police line that the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office had set up. Neighbors looked on as fire officials stood somberly near the home.
The fire district consists of 30 fire stations over nine East Bay cities as well as the unincorporated county communities.