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Smoke detectors were disabled in San Luis Obispo apartment that burned Friday

Posted at 6:55 PM, May 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-10 22:16:14-04

Some Cal Poly students woke up to a fire in their apartment early Friday morning.

It happened near the corner of California and Foothill boulevards.

Students living in the Lee Arms Apartments were jolted awake at 4:45 a.m. However, not every smoke alarm in the engulfed unit went off.

Firefighters say they found that a smoke detector had been taken off the ceiling and placed near the ground.

Mikaela Colombo ​wasn’t at the apartment when the fire broke out, but she says the bedroom smoke detector had dead batteries and the one in the kitchen had been taken down.

“The one in our kitchen was taken down, which is completely our fault,” Colombo said. “We took it down because literally we’d be making pasta and the smoke detector would go off.”

“Sometimes they can get annoying when you are cooking or you don’t like the chirp that they make, well they are there for a reason,” said Matthew Lipson, San Luis Obispo City Fire Captain.

Firefighters say the smoke detector can’t do its job if it’s on the ground.

“You have to wait for the smoke to bank down all the way from the ceiling all the way down to the floor for that to activate,” Lipson said. “We want it to activate on the ceiling because that gives people enough time to evacuate the structure.”​

A roommate’s boyfriend was there and woke up feeling hot. He then got the other three girls out.

Colombo rushed over when she found out about the fire.

“I feel super crushed right now because all my school work and my laptop and all my clothes are gone. We had no time to go and grab anything,” Colombo said.

Investigators say the cause was an unattended candle.

Closed doors prevented the fire from spreading to other rooms.

Even though some smoke alarms were disabled, the resident manager thinks the heat sensors and instincts helped keep everyone safe.

“Through the audible fire alarm system that activated by heat sensors in the apartment, it woke another unit up and those girls went and made sure other apartments were evacuating and getting notified,” said Andy Chestnut, Lee Arms resident manager.

Those heat sensors triggered alarms throughout the complex and notified the fire department.

The property manager, John Duval of JDR Real Estates Inc, says all smoke detectors are looked at on a yearly basis. He says they do not condone disabling or removing smoke detectors.

Firefighters say you should blow out all candles before going to bed and constantly check that smoke detectors are working.

They also say closing doors inside homes can prevent fires from spreading to other rooms.

One person was treated for minor burn injuries.

Some tenants are staying in hotels and emergency campus housing. ​

According to Duval, there is no structural damage to the property, but they do not have an estimate as to when the apartment will be cleaned up.