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Two die in Pilot Hill house fire

Salmon Falls Road home destroyed in blaze
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Two people were killed Sunday in a house fire that destroyed a century-old Pilot Hill home.
 
An El Dorado County Fire District spokesman said the fire started just after 6 p.m. and firefighters from the nearby Cool station were at the blaze in the 4500-block of Salmon Falls Road within seven minutes.
 
Battalion Chief Mike Pott said Monday that the one-story house was engulfed in flames by the time the first engine arrived. The initial fire attack crew was joined by engines from Rescue, Garden Valley and Georgetown.
 
Firefighters were told that two people were likely inside the building but it was determined that the fire was too intense to start a rescue effort, he said.
 
The fire was knocked down 30 minutes after arrival and the bodies of the two occupants were found at 9:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. Sunday, Pott said.
 
The El Dorado County Coroner's Office was not identifying the two fire victims Monday. Sgt. Jim Burns said that because of the extent of burns on the bodies, a coroner's investigation would have to examine dental records to make a positive identification on the two people found inside the house.
 
Preliminary findings indicate no signs of the fire cause being suspicious but the investigation team was continuing to look at all possible causes Monday, Pott said.
 
Dwayne Schulz, a neighbor, said he heard an explosion and then saw flames across Salmon Falls Road. The house is located about 150 yards from the Highway 49 crossroads.
 
Schulz said he ran to the house with a fire extinguisher but quickly realized that it would not be of any use. He tried kicking in a door to enter but found the smoke and flames too dangerous once he had.
 
“I couldn’t get in,” Schulz said. “There was nothing I could do.”
 
James Stephens of Placerville, a member of the family that has owned the house for at least 110 years, said that the building was constructed on land purchased by his great-great-grandfather with $10 in gold. The purchase and construction took place in 1902 or earlier, he said. Lumber used to build the house came from a mercantile store that dated back to the Gold Rush days, he added.
 
The house went up “like a tinderbox,” said Bob Laliberte, who lives at the nearby Pilot Hill Mobilehome Park. He heard an initial report on the scanner and said he watched flames as high as 100 feet in the darkness.
 
“It sounded like shooting at first but that was probably crackling from the fire,” Laliberte said. “It was pretty much engulfed. It was like a giant torch.”