Four-Alarm Fire Destroys Historic San Jose House

On Thursday, July 19, San Jose lost one of its most historic homes to an early morning fire.

Just before 4 a.m. the San Jose Fire Department responded to the blaze in the vacant two-story Victorian structure at 156 East St. John St.

The first companies arrived on scene to find the structure heavily involved in fire, with flames erupting from the basement and blowing through the roof. Incident Commander Jim Stunkel immediately declared a defensive operation as the roof caved in and the back exterior wall of the structure collapsed.

Flames spread to an adjacent structure's attic, but that fire was quickly extinguished.

Three walls and two free-standing chimneys were all that remained of the Donner Houghton House that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Constructed in 1881, the building served as the home of former San Jose mayor Sherman Houghton, and his wife, Eliza Donner Houghton. Eliza was a survivor of the infamous Donner Party that found themselves stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the winter of 1846-47, while making their way westward to California.

Investigation into the cause of the fire has just begun, but San Jose Fire Department spokesman, Jose Guerrero described the fire as being suspicious. Police arrived on scene early into the event and escorted a number of squatters and homeless from the structure.

There were no injuries.

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