California Fire Officials Close to Finding Cause in LODD Blaze

The question investigators are focusing on is not how Capt. Mark McCormack died, but what caused the fire that claimed his life and is anyone to blame?


The question investigators are focusing on is not how Capt. Mark McCormack died, but what caused the fire that claimed his life and is anyone to blame?

Officials hope to have at least one of the answers today.

Assisted by an electrical engineer from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, who toured the charred Los Gatos house Tuesday afternoon, investigators expect to wrap up their examination into the four-alarm fire at 15700 Blossom Hill Road.

Heat from the 2:20 a.m. Sunday blaze melted a copper power line hanging over the burning two-story house, causing the wire -- carrying 12,000 volts of electricity -- to fall onto a pine tree and dangle two to three feet from the ground.

In the dark, with the ground wet, McCormack made contact with the power line at about 3:35 a.m. Fellow firefighters tried to resuscitate him before taking him to Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, where he was pronounced dead at 4:15 a.m.

``Sometime tomorrow afternoon, we should have a determination on the cause of the fire,'' Marti McKee, ATF spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

Fire officials said the blaze started in the same area of the property as a November 2003 fire that burned a second-story sunroom used as a prayer area by the family.

After that fire, an inspector from Santa Clara County's Office of Development Services did a ``fire review'' of the property and red-tagged the fire area as ``unsafe for human occupancy.'' A notice posted on the door of the room where the fire occurred said ``it is unlawful for any person to occupy or reside in this building.''

``We posted the building as unsafe to occupy until rebuilt,'' Thomas Whisler, senior plan check engineer, said Monday. ``We've never issued a permit for it to be rebuilt.''

County records show the property owner, Quyen B. Nguyen, did not submit plans for repairs nor did the county issue any permits for repair work since then.

Officials have not ruled out criminal charges in connection with the fire.

``We're not here to put blame,'' said Dennis Johnsen, an arson investigator with Santa Clara County Fire Department. ``We're here to find the facts.''

McCormack is the first firefighter in the 58-year history of the Santa Clara County Fire Department to die in the line of duty.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement about McCormack's death late Tuesday.

``We are safer because of courageous individuals like Mark who choose a life in public safety and risk their lives to protect the members of their communities,'' the governor said.


Funeral Information

Memorial Service for Fire Captain Mark F. McCormack is as follows

Saturday, February 19, 2005 @ Time to be Announced HP Pavilion
525 W. Santa Clara Street, San Jose, CA 95113

For additional information, please: Call the Information Hotline @ 408.378.4279 (staffed M-F 8:00-5:00 p.m. PST) or visit the Santa Clara County Fire Department website at www.sccfd.org

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to:

Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation
In Memory of Mark F. McCormack
665 3rd Street, Suite #345
San Francisco, CA 94107

Bank of the West
Mark F. McCormack Memorial Fund
Account #017-012-286
2395 Winchester Blvd
Campbell, CA 95008

Donations can be mailed to this branch or any Bank of the West branch in your area. Please be sure to reference the account number on your check to ensure that your donation is posted to the correct account.