H-SANTA MARIA

Nov 11, 2010 11:42 PM by Ariel Wesler

"Open Flame Device" responsible for fatal fire

Investigators say Wednesday's deadly house fire in Santa Maria appeared to be accidental, and they say an open flame device of some kind was used to start the fire.

It happened on the 800-hundred block of Marcia Way last night.

Investigators spent their day in an upstairs bedroom, cleaning and trying to pinpoint exactly where the fire started. Inside that room is where the fire killed four- year-old Juan Rodriguez. His family was just one of many living there--packed into a single family home, but firefighters say it did have a working smoke detector.

"The folks use the bedrooms as kind of their apartments and then they use the downstairs as kind of the common area. That's where everyone cooked and did entertainment," said Battalion Chief Dan Orr with the Santa Maria Fire Department.

Still, multiple families violates city code, but in a tough economy and with more low-income families, it's becoming more common in Santa Maria.

"I don't know how we could ever enforce it because it would be knocking on everybody's door," Orr said.

Spectators came by all day to get a look at the damage and friends nearby were offering support. 27-year-old Jose Rico knew Rodriguez well.

"We used to take him out to eat and stay here and play with my boy," Rico said.

Now, he's lending a helping hand to Rodriguez's five year old brother, Jesus.

"We're getting him distracted. You know, we don't want him to think about what happened. I know, he's probably traumatized,"

But not saving everyone has taken it's toll on firefighters.

"I certainly have some individuals that will sit there and question every move that they made and every action that they had and think of a hundred different things that could have done better or different that they think may of helped them. Wouldn't have made a difference. Not last night. Not with the amount of fire we had," Orr said.

In the meantime, the mother and her family have nowhere to turn.

"She has nobody here. No brothers, no aunts, no sisters, nobody," Rico said.

Counselors from throughout the county have been called in to help those firefighters cope mentally and emotionally. Firefighters estimate the total damage at around $180,000.

Local firefighters have some tips for all of us to keep in mind about smoke alarm safety.

There should be one smoke detector in every room where someone is sleeping. There should also be one in hallways outside those rooms. Multi-level homes should have at least one smoke detector on each floor. Check them regularly to make sure they are working properly.

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