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Two-day-old coals spark Santa Rosa house fire

Firefighter Alex Serrano removes his breathing apparatus after exiting a garage that caught fire on Monte Verde Drive in Santa Rosa on Feb. 24, 2013.

ALVIN JORNADA/ PD
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 7:44 a.m.

Discarded fireplace ashes ignited a fire that destroyed the garage and damaged a St. Francis Acres neighborhood home in Santa Rosa, fire officials said.

The ashes had been kept in a metal container for two days before being dumped into a plastic outdoor yard-waste container next to a PG&E gas meter, Santa Rosa Battalion Chief Bill Shubin said.

And although they were cool to the touch, the ashes smoldered and ignited, sparking explosions that startled the neighborhood at about 2:15 p.m.

In a backyard next door, Ray Chan, 45, peered over his neighbor's fence after smelling smoke and saw a recycling bin was burning. Chan ran to his neighbor's home and pounded on the door but no one answered.

Residents Carol Grieg and Luis Colina were not home, Shubin said.

"Then there was a big explosion -- boom!" Chan said.

Several more explosions prompted multiple neighbors to call 911.

Kent Brown of Santa Rosa, who was visiting family on the block, heard the explosions and stepped outside as his mother called 911.

"It is startling how fast that thing moved," Brown said of the smoke and fire that quickly consumed the garage.

A melted gas meter was feeding the fire when firefighters arrived within six minutes of the first call, Shubin said.

Crews shut down the gas and cut a square hole in the roof to let heat building up inside to escape, allowing firefighters to enter the garage and stop the fire from spreading to the main home, Capt. Mike Siegel said.

Although they did halt the flames, smoke caused significant damage in the home, Shubin said. The damage was estimated at $45,000.

A PG&E crew arrived to attend to the meter and downed power lines as fire crews continued dousing any remaining hot spots. A charred pickup truck was inside the blackened garage.

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