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Wind-whipped fire guts Auburn house

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A wind-whipped fire turned most of an Auburn house into a charred skeleton Monday morning. But Auburn Fire Chief Mark D'Ambrogi said that while the wind threatened nearby homes, seven fire crews were able to contain the blaze with little damage to other houses on El Oro Drive. The street is located off Alta Mesa Drive, near Dairy Road. The fire was reported at 2:45 a.m. and reported under control at 3:20 a.m. No injuries were reported. With winds gusting early Monday morning at the time of the fire, D'Ambrogi said the fire's embers created a spot leaf fire on a roof of a nearby home and the flames blistered the side wall of an adjoining house. The main part of the 880 El Oro Drive house was destroyed while the garage sustained smoke damage, D'Ambrogi said. There were no injuries to occupants of the home or the 20 firefighters who worked to save the neighborhood, he said. D’Ambrogi said the fire had the capability of spreading to several homes nearby. He pointed to a shake roof on a house across the street. Fire crews were particularly concerned about embers landing on it and igniting, he said. As well, many houses had storm gutters overflowing with tinder-dry leaves that had fallen during strong winds over the past week. The Reno fire Nov. 18 destroyed 30 homes as wind gusts reached 70 mph and 10,000 people were evacuated. "It could have been a little Reno," D'Ambrogi said. The investigation was continuing Monday morning to determine a possible cause. Joe Alex, who lives one street down from El Oro Drive, said he was awakened early Monday morning by the wind. He saw flames from the house as he walked to his kitchen to make coffee. Alex said he called 911 and watched the fire become more intense. “They were in there sleeping while the flames were crackling and roaring,” Alex said. “I thought they were gone. A cop came up and said they were woken up and everybody was out.” Alex said he’s had problems with neighbors burning leaves at this time of year and embers spreading on the wind onto his property. “I tell them and they just say ‘It’s a burn day,’” Alex said. As well as Auburn, firefighters were dispatched from nearby Placer Fire and Newcastle stations. Ladders were placed at several houses for firefighter access in the event embers ignited leaves, D’Ambrogi said. Four people fled from the burning house. While names of the four were not available at press time from fire officials or the American Red Cross, they were described as an adult couple and two men in their late teens or early 20s. The house was a rental owned by a Newark, Calif. couple. Trista Cunningham, American Red Cross spokeswoman, said the organization provided emergency shelter and food for the four, as well as a clothing allowance. On the positive side, they had a renter’s insurance policy on their possessions, she said. Tom Osborn, who lives next door to the house that was severely damaged, said he woke up at 3 a.m. and smelled smoke. “It was as if someone was shining a big-old floodlight on the house,” Osborn said. Osborn could point to a scorched wall on his house and a broken window. Before leaving his own home, which has a concrete roof, he saw flames shooting straight up in the air. Heat radiating through on the fire side of the house window knocked him back, he said. “I thought I was going to lose this place,” Osborn said. “I praised the Lord. He looked after me today. It was really something.”