Cigarette receptacle catches fire, causes evacuation at Santa Paulan Apts.

December 14, 2011
Santa Paula News

The report of a fire last week led to the evacuation of a senior housing complex, although thankfully the incident turned out not to be serious.

According to Santa Paula Fire Captain Steve Lazenby, the incident was reported December 7 at 4:52 p.m. when Engine 81 was dispatched on a “no code” to investigate a commercial fire alarm at 145 N. 4th St., the Santa Paulan Senior Apartments. “While we were responding the call was upgraded to a structure fire,” and response was called from other engines including those from Ventura County and Fillmore Fire departments. 

Lazenby said the upgrade included a report that the first floor of the three-story building had smoke on the hallway. When Engine 81 arrived on scene an evacuation of the building was in progress and “audible alarms were sounding.” An investigation by fire personnel was launched and it was found there was smoke throughout the hallway of the first floor. 

“While investigating, witnesses reported that the fire was out and had been located in a small cigarette disposal box that is mounted on the wall just outside the center entrance to the hallway to the ground floor.” Lazenby said although the fire was out, the box “was hot to the touch.”

Witnesses told firefighters the box had some flames visible, with heavy smoke from the box and going directly into an open door of the hallway. Smoke ejection measures were started and the alarm silenced at the panel.

“After the smoke was cleared, the hallway was checked with the Eagle gas monitor” until the carbon monoxide levels were brought below acceptable, and then the residents - many who had waited in the parking lot and patio area - were allowed back into their units. Lazenby said, “No one had seen how the fire was started or who had started it,” but it was determined to be an accidental fire started in a designated cigarette disposal container. 

During the evacuation, several non-ambulatories and a “couple of slightly impaired residents were helped from the structure by fire personnel.... The residents were allowed back into their homes only after all the smoke was blown from the hallway” and after firefighters “confirmed that the carbon monoxide levels were safe,” Lazenby said.

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