Fire Guts San Jose Condominium Complex

Twenty-five residents safely escaped their San Jose condominium complex Saturday morning after a suspicious four-alarm fire swiftly transformed their homes into ash heaps and caused $2.5 million in damage before firefighters could contain the blaze.

Fire officials said the fast-moving inferno first ignited in a carport about 5:30 a.m. on the 200 block of Jose Figueres Avenue and quickly torched the adjacent six-unit building, turning a dozen cars into metallic junk piles. Many of the residents found shelter with relatives, while others were shuttled to hotels for temporary stays courtesy of the American Red Cross. No one was injured.

San Jose Fire Department spokeswoman Capt. Allison Cabral said the blaze was suspicious because firefighters had spotted another car engulfed in flames a couple of miles away, which could be related.

``It's not a clear accidental cause,'' said Cabral, who estimated it would be at least three weeks before fire officials could pinpoint a cause.

Arriving six minutes after the fire erupted, about 65 firefighters spent three hours dousing the flames, which had spread from the carport to a flattop roof of the 30-foot tall, wood-frame stucco building. The fire was able to move swiftly through the units because they shared a common attic, fire officials said.

Rodrigo Hernandez said he bolted awake when he heard screaming and instantly ushered his wife and children out into the street. Officials suspect that the 26-year-old's Chevy Cavalier may have been where the fire originated.

``Right now, I feel bad. I lost everything,'' said Hernandez, who had $2,000 in cash socked away in his apartment for his 3-year-old son's upcoming baptism. ``I have to start over.''

Ramon Tinaza was equally bereaved as he shuffled through the flame-retardant foam, watching firefighters sift through the rubble of the two-bedroom flat he lived in with five other family members. Buried in the wreckage were six pairs of Nikes the 50-year-old home care worker had planned to mail to relatives in the Philippines.

``I am really upset,'' he said. ``We don't know what we are going to do.''

Most of the residents milling around the quiet street Saturday said it is a blessing they all escaped unharmed.

Pacita Solar said if it weren't for her terrier-poodle, Jackie, she and her children may not have survived.

``If it weren't for him, my children would be trapped upstairs,'' said Solar, 46. ``He's my hero. He woke us up.''