Neighbors Spring to Action While Calif. Home Burns

Aug. 31--No one was hurt in a Saturday afternoon blaze that damaged part of a home in Santa Rosa's Lomita Heights neighborhood.

A quick response by a neighborhood group may have helped prevent the home, in the 500 block of Buena Vista Drive, from burning to the ground.

"One of the neighbors was working in his front yard when he smelled smoke," said Bill Skoonberg, who lives a few houses down from the one that caught fire. "He started everything going."

By everything, Skoonberg was referring to the neighborhood's participation in Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies, which began in Oakmont and has spread to other communities around Sonoma County. Under the program, neighborhoods compile contact lists for residents so they can be reached during emergencies.

First, neighbors knocked on the door to make sure no one was home and then as calls were made to 911, others were reaching out to the homeowners who were not at home when the fire began around 2:30 p.m.

"It's a very close community," said resident Ken Howe. "We watch out for each other."

As a result of the neighbor's effort, the Santa Rosa Fire Department was on the scene within four minutes of getting dispatched to the fire at around 2:47 p.m.

Crews arrived to find the left side of the two-story home on fire and smoke coming from the attic. Firefighters used tarps to protect the owners' property from falling debris and damage from smoke, fire and water.

They were able to put most of the fire out by 3:12 p.m, officials said.

According to preliminary reports, Santa Rosa fire inspectors believe the fire was started when oily rags left out on the dirt on the left side of the home spontaneously combusted. The owners, fire officials said, reported that they had used rags to stain their fence Friday.

A preliminary estimate of the damage was $100,000, they said.

Rags used with solvents such as oils, petroleum products and flammable liquids are subject to spontaneously catching fire. Fire officials suggest they be stored in fire resistant covered containers until they can be disposed of properly.

Information on how and where to dispose of stained rags is available at http://www.recyclenow.org/toxics/house_tox_facility.asp

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin@pressdemocrat.com.

Copyright 2014 - The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

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