Blaze ruins home on Ridge |

Blaze ruins home on Ridge

John HartFirefighters attack a blaze Wednesday that destroyed most of a house on New School Road. Incense is suspected as the fire's cause.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Incense likely triggered a Wednesday fire that destroyed most of a North San Juan house that is home to several people.

The fire at 27395 New School Road near Oak Tree Road was reported about 1:30 p.m. by a tenant who heard loud “popping and snapping” from another tenant’s bedroom, North San Juan Fire Chief Boyd Johnson said.

“He went in to tell him to keep it down, and there was a fire,” he said.

Firefighters strongly suspect unattended incense because the tenant of the bedroom where the fire started said he had lit incense in the room then left the house.

A cat or a breeze from an open window could have knocked the incense onto the floor, said Battalion Chief Rob Paulus of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The incense-lighting tenant returned to the house four hours after the fire started, according to Paulus.

“He’s still kind of in shock,” Paulus said, adding the cat probably died in the fire.

A less likely scenario – that the fire started from a computer in the same bedroom – hasn’t been totally eliminated, Paulus said.

The blaze spurred the voluntary evacuation of nearby Oak Tree School, Johnson said, but flames never spread far from the house.

He said several people owned the home, and he identified the one he spoke with as Kathryn Jacobson. All the residents found temporary housing with friends.

Neighbors with rakes and shovels watched for flying embers early on before firefighters hit the fire with water and foam. A CDF air tanker dropped retardant, and a U.S. Forest Service helicopter dropped water. The mop-up effort lasted past 8 p.m.

Neighbor Pam Morey watched nervously because only a grassy slope and row of trees separated her house from the fire.

“My car is loaded with videos and portraits off the wall,” she said before handing out water to exhausted firefighters. “All my important things are in my car.”

Damage costs to the roughly 2,500-square-foot house were estimated at $300,000, not including contents. About three-fourths of the house was destroyed, with a built-on garage left intact.

The house was well-built, with cedar tongue-and-groove siding, and the construction presented both challenges and benefits, Paulus said. The roof had layers of different materials that trapped the flames, but the materials kept embers from flying to the nearby grass.

“It was a major fight,” Paulus said. “It basically had lots of dead roofing space for the fire to move in.”

In addition to North San Juan, CDF and Forest Service firefighters, crews arrived from Pike, Grass Valley and Washington Ridge.

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