Fire displaces Merced family

07/18/2014 9:47 PM

07/19/2014 7:03 AM

A house fire fueled by a gas leak burned for nearly five hours Friday in Merced, displacing a family of six.

No injuries were reported.

Two adults and four children were seen running out the front door of the house in the 1800 block of East 23rd Street just before 9 a.m. as flames and smoke shot out of the other side of the home, according to Santiago Villanueva, a neighbor. A resident at the burned-out home did not wish to comment.

“I saw them running, the smoke – the black and white smoke – and I saw the sparks from the power line,” Villanueva said.

Several electrical lines snapped while firefighters were on the scene, further complicating the situation, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Merced County.

The gas leak fueled the fire for nearly five hours before utility crews managed to shut off the gas and electricity, which forced the nearly three dozen county and city firefighters to stay away from the house for their own safety, said Mark Pimentel, battalion fire chief.

The power lines that ran close to the flames were damaged and fell to the ground, kicking up sparks while firefighters were on the scene.

Firefighters remained on the edge of the property and prevented flames from spreading to neighboring homes. The flames were extinguished just before 2 p.m., but firefighters spent an hour mopping up.

The six family members, whose names were not available, will be provided temporary housing assistance by the American Red Cross, Pimentel said.

Flames caused major damage to the home, and a second residence on the property sustained minor heat damage. Firefighters put early damage estimates between $75,000 and $85,000.

“It appears the fire started somewhere in the northeast corner of the structure. We can’t tell yet whether it started inside or outside the home,” Pimentel said.

The battalion chief said the cause remained under investigation late Friday, but the fire does not appear to be suspicious.

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