Cigarette Touches Off California Church

Cigarette Touches Off California Church

THREE Mountain View, Calif., fire fighters narrowly escaped death when the roof of Trinity Methodist Church on Mercy Street collapsed from fire that severely burned a civilian and caused an estimated $61,000 damage on October 29.

The church which measured 80 by 60 feet had a 44-foot ceiling over the assembly area and incorporated a choir loft and bell tower. Attached at the rear was a large meeting room that had two openings into the church proper and it was here that the fire started in a sofa from a carelessly discarded cigarette. Exposed on the west was a two-story parsonage, 12 feet away from the meeting hall, and on the north a one-story 90-by-30-foot combination social hall and nursery separated from the church by a narrow alleyway except at the rear, where both buildings were connected by a kitchen.

The first alarm went out at 11:35 p.m. and incoming units, Engines 51, 52 and a rescue company, found the meeting hall completely involved with flame that was creeping along both eaves toward the bell tower at the other end of the building.

First to arrive, Captain Marvin Wikre immediately called Engine 53, the stand-by company, to the scene. Assistant Chief Burns sent out a second alarm at 11:38 p.m., and at 11:40 p.m. Chief Byron R. Chaney sent out a third. These alarms brought in the off-shift plus the volunteer department. Some of these men responded with Reserve Engine 54, and a newly acquired Snorkel which had not yet been officially placed in service. The neighboring city of Los Altos sent in an engine company to cover at Mountain View Headquarters.

Because of its proximity to the church and the prevailing wind, the parsonage presented the severest exposure. Engine 51, first in with a 1,250-gpm pumper, stretched two 1 1/2-inch lines from its 500-gallon booster tank to hold the flames until other companies could stretch heavy hydrant-supplied streams. Engine 52 then stretched two lines to the main entrance of the church, and made their way partly into the building but were eventually driven out by the intense heat. In making their entrance they came upon an unconscious and severely burned civilian who was taken outside and revived. The third company, Engine 53, also stretched two lines, one to the south entrance of the church and another wyed to two 1 1/2-inch lines that were taken to the passageway between church and social hall.

Ladder crushed

During initial operations a line was operated from a 35-foot ladder placed against the belfry. But the line made little headway against the fire and when the top of the tower was seen to sway the three men operating the ladder were ordered down. Seconds later the roof of the tower collapsed, crushing the ladder.

On its arrival, the Snorkel was positioned in front of the bell tower and supplied with three lines from Engine 52 at a hydrant. Operated by Captain Wikre, who doubles as master mechanic and was the only member present fully instructed in its use, the Snorkel knocked down fire in roof and belfry and swept the exposures with its heavy stream.

With the fire practically out of control in the church proper, Chief Chaney gave all his attention to confining it and protecting the exposures. Soon the blaze was ringed with streams, nine lines in all, and within an hour the building began to darken down. But many long hours of overhauling remained, including the toppling of the belfry to protect passersby.

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