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Three Blazes in 2 Days Prompt Flagler-Palm Coast Fire Chiefs to Highlight Holiday Safety

| December 18, 2012

The fire at 12 Farrington Lane in Palm Coast was largely contained to the garage, where it started when a Ford Taurus ignited. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Firefighters battled three residential fires in two days this weekend—two in Palm Coast, one in Flagler Beach—though in every case firefighters got to the scene fast enough to limit the damage to one or two locations in each residence, essentially saving the houses.

The county’s three fire chiefs were quick to remind residents that Christmas and its sleigh ride of holidays can be an unfortunately busy season for firefighters, because Christmas trees and decorations on one hand and cooking on the other, when poorly attended, are triggers to many blazes.

Saturday evening’s fire at 18 Empire Lane was one such, Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle said. The fire, he said, started in the kitchen, where cooking—with grease—had been left unattended. The cooking caught fire “and got away from them,” Beadle said.

Beadle and Palm Coast Fire Department units had been on Brownstone Lane, in the aftermath of the shooting death of a machete-wielding man by a deputy, when the call for the fire went out. Other units were closer and were able to get to it fast enough to limit the damage mostly to the kitchen, even though Beadle wasn’t sure the house would be livable immediately.

The 3,450-square foot house is valued at $170,000 this year, according to Flagler County property Appraiser figures, and is not homesteaded. It is owned by Rita Zusman of Brooklyn, N.Y., but rented out to a family of nine, which was briefly homeless Saturday night. The fire department contacted the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s victims’ advocate, who was able to secure the family in lodging for the night.

No one was hurt.

Deep-Frying Dangers

Beadle said the Empire Lane fire typifies the sort of fires that break-out often between Thanksgiving and Christmas as kitchens become busy with cooking, and deep-frying turkeys is in fashion, but attention may wander elsewhere. The fire chief said residents should never leave cooking unattended, let alone leave the house with something on the stove,

As the video to the right illustrates, deep-fryers can easily be overfilled, so when the turkey is dunked in, the oil spills over and catches on fire immediately. Deep fryers tip over very easily, too. And the oil can overheat to the point of combustion.

Two fires broke out the previous evening—on Saturday, Dec. 15—with both requiring the response of several units, though neither appears to have been triggered by holiday mishaps.

The first fire Saturday evening took place at 12 Farrington Lane in Palm Coast, at a 1,500-square-foot house owned by Marian Guerin. County 911 was contacted just after 6 p.m. when the car in the garage, a 2005 Ford Taurus with a full tank of gas, was reported to be on fire from the front end. Smoke was pouring out of the garage.

According to the incident report, Guerin had gotten into her car, turned it on, and nothing had happened. She got out of the car and called her son in law, and heard hissing and popping in the car. Guerin was the only occupant of the 36-year-old house, which is valued at $70,000. Less than 30 minutes after the call to 911, the fire was out, and firefighters were in the garage and in the house investigating.

At 6:42, Guerin’s son in law, Jerry Masiello, a commercial real estate broker in Palm Coast, who was at the scene, caused a disturbance that required the response of law enforcement officers when Masiello attempted to prevent a FlaglerLive reporter from taking pictures of the house. Masiello warned aggressively of “trouble” if the reporter did so—loudly enough that at firefighter summoned law enforcement. The incident was documented. Masiello told a deputy that “he was upset that his mother in law’s house was seriously damaged by the fire and that he got upset ‘in the heat of the moment,’” according to the incident report.

The fire was mostly limited to the garage, though water and smoke damage spilled over, authorities at the scene said.

Later that same night, a fire broke out in a three-level house at 2560 North Oceanshore Boulevard in Flagler Beach. Owned by Ramiro Gomez, the homesteaded, 2,000-square-foot house, valued this year at $175,000, was unoccupied (its occupants were in South Florida just then), and it may have been triggered by an electrical malfunction near a refrigerator.

“We arrived on scene, we had fire coming out from under the eaves on the south side of the house, siding was starting to melt,” Flagler Beach Fire Chief Martin Roberts said. “We quickly made an entry into the house, the fire was on the second and third floors, in the bedroom. We knocked that down. It extended toward the back of the house on the third floor,” so firefighters chased it down and had it out in barely 20 minutes.

The fire left a gaping hole on the south side of the house, roughly between its second and third floors, but the rest of the house was protected, though it has the usual smoke and water damage. No one was injured.

The fire at 2560 North Oceanshore Boulevard in Flagler Beach was limited to its southern section’s upper floors. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Of greater concern to firefighters: when a Flagler County Fire Rescue unit hooked up its fire hose to a hydrant in the thick of the emergency, the hydrant proved dry. That can be a firefighter’s nightmare. Roberts immediately called on water trucks from Palm Coast and the county, and meanwhile used the water that each of his trucks, and the trucks of other fire departments on scene, always carry—from 750 to 1,000 gallons each. In fact, that water proved enough to take out the fire, even before the water trucks arrived. Roberts said he conveyed the issue to the county.

The Palm Coast Fire Department (including Beadle) was also at that scene.

Addressing fire safety, Capt. Ron Bolser of Flagler County Fire Rescue said every house should have its emergency fire extinguisher, including one in every kitchen. The expiration dates should be checked on the extinguishers, which can last up to two years.

“If you have live trees, make sure they stay watered and they don’t dry out,” Bolser said. “Make sure you’re not covering up your extension cords with rugs and things like that to try and hide them. That’s also a fire danger. Don’t leave your home without your Christmas tree being turned off.”

It’s not just cooking and decorations, either: Don Petito, Flagler County’s fire chief, on several occasions last week was at a rash of vehicle wrecks. “This time of year a lot of people are coming down, the snowbirds are coming down, and a lot of people have relatives coming in for the holidays,” Petito said, “so the population increases just a little bit right now.”

Residents can call Bob Growick at Flagler County’s Emergency Operations Center, at 386/313-4200, to learn more about fire-extinguisher handling.

From the National Fire Protection Association, and From Palm Coast

Watch a demonstration showing how flammable a dry Christmas tree can be as opposed to a tree watered regularly, and see Palm Coast’s fire safety tips below.

NPFA Facts:

  • Between 2006-2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 230 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 4 deaths, 21 injuries, and $17.3 million in direct property damage annually.
  • Christmas tree fires are not common, but when they occur, they are likely to be serious. On average, one of every 66 reported fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in death.
  • A heat source too close to the Christmas tree started one of every five (18%) of these fires.
  • Nineteen percent of home Christmas tree structure fires were intentionally set. Nearly three-fourths (72%) of the intentionally set Christmas tree fires occurred in the 15 days after Christmas and may have been related to disposal.

Palm Coast’s Fire Safety Tips

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