In Laguna Beach, as elsewhere, firefighters are expected to arrive promptly and work efficiently smothering fire. On Friday, Deputy Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse took the department’s service up a level, reporting a 7:30 a.m. blaze that caused $100,000 in damage to a Thalia Street home, but also personally evacuating the two occupants, who were still sleeping when he pounded on the door.
“He man-handled us out of the house,” said homeowner Gene Gratz, who described his initial reaction as an annoyed epithet at being awakened, until his unexpected visitor pointed to billowing smoke that obscured the yard beyond a glass-walled living area. “I realized maybe there is something wrong,” said Gratz, who, with his wife, Judy Regan, was permitted to put on some street clothes and grab their pet cats before fleeing. They found residents in neighboring homes also in the street.
LaTendresse was en route to the department’s downtown headquarters when he spotted smoke and acted to get the occupant’s out of harm’s way, said incident commander and Division Chief Dan Stefano, who described the blaze now under investigation as probably accidental.
Several engines arrived promptly and within minutes firefighters doused the fire, ultimately confining damage to a lower level storage area and stopping the blaze from engulfing upper floors, said Stefano, who had praise for the actions of his boss and line firefighters.
The below-grade storeroom in the Gratz home contained client files, electronic equipment, clothing and a humidifier that runs intermittently, triggered by a thermostat. Gratz figures the latter malfunctioned. “That’s the only thing I could think of,” he said.
Though the home was equipped with working smoke alarms, at least one smoke alarm in the lower level was not functional, Stefano said in a statement.