Crime, Fire + Courts

Fire investigators: Maintenance work sparked apartment blaze

By From page A1 | February 13, 2013

Smoke billows from the roof of the University Court Apartments, 515 Sycamore Lane, on Monday afternoon as Davis firefighters respond to the third-alarm fire that displaced as many as 20 people. Davis Fire Department/Courtesy photo

Maintenance workers soldering a bathroom pipe accidentally started Monday’s third-alarm fire that damaged nine apartments and displaced more than a dozen residents, many of them UC Davis students preparing for midterm exams, Davis Fire Department officials said.

Division Chief Paul Swanson said the fire began in the wall of a vacant first-floor unit at the University Court Apartments — where the workers had been replacing a leaky pipe — and traveled upward in V-shaped pattern of flames, damaging eight other apartments in the process.

“It just went up the pipe to the second floor and entered through the vacant spaces” in the wall, he said.

Six of the apartments sustained “significant” damage in the 1:30 p.m. blaze, while three others were limited to sheetrock and water damage, Swanson said. Total losses to the complex were estimated at $500,000.

A manager at the apartment complex at 515 Sycamore Lane declined to comment about the incident Tuesday, but confirmed that the American Red Cross was assisting residents who had been displaced from the one- and two-bedroom apartments.

They included a woman who had to be rescued from her third-floor apartment after she was trapped by heavy smoke inside the unit.

Acting fire Capt. Luis Parrilla said he was pulling a hose toward the burning building when he heard the woman yelling for help from her bedroom window. He climbed up to her apartment, and, when she didn’t answer the front door, forced his way inside.

“Tons of smoke started coming out of the apartment,” said Parrilla, who recalled finding a layer of smoke that shrouded the top half of the living area. He found the woman in her bedroom and escorted her outside, where she and a second woman from another apartment were treated for smoke inhalation.

“She did the right thing by going to the window, which was perfect,” Parrilla said.

The fire reached third-alarm status due to the number of personnel and amount of equipment required to fight the blaze, bringing in assistance from the UC Davis, Woodland, Dixon and West Sacramento fire departments who either responded to the fire scene or provided station coverage elsewhere in the city.

At one point, there were as many as 35 firefighters on scene, which was not fully cleared until about 6 p.m. Monday.

Melissa Marzan, a UCD sophomore whose apartment isn’t far from the damaged units, said she knew something was wrong when she arrived home shortly after 2 p.m. and encountered several fire engines with flashing lights.

“I was worried, because I had a midterm and my stuff was still inside,” said Marzan, 19. “I ended up just grabbing my laptop and study notes, and waited it out until I could go back.”

When she returned, she saw several residents of the damaged apartments packing up their cars.

Jordan Scott, communications director for the Red Cross’ Capital Region chapter, said the organization provided housing assistance for 13 displaced residents, who were put up in local hotels for several days until they could make other arrangements. Some of them also had food and clothing needs, Scott said.

— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

Lauren Keene

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