Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
The charred apartment and source of Sunday’s three-alarm fire that temporarily displaced 34 on Regent Court in Redwood City
Redwood City fire officials are trying to find ways to incentivize property owners to install sprinkler systems after the third apartment fire in a little over a year destroyed a woman’s home and temporarily displaced nearly 34 people Sunday.
Firefighters were called to 950 Regent Court around 7:06 p.m. after a second-story apartment at a 12-unit building caught fire. About 50 firefighters, 12 engines, three ladder trucks, six chief officers, police and medical personnel responded to the three-alarm fire, Deputy Fire Chief Stan Maupin said. The fire was contained around 7:45 p.m., Maupin said.
In the last 14 months, there were two other apartments that also caught fire just blocks away from Regent Court on Woodside Road. Another troubling similarity is that none of the apartments were equipped with sprinkler systems, Maupin said.
“All of these fires could have had potentially just one sprinkler head that would have contained the fire before we got there and had it be a really small fire,” Maupin said.
Maupin said the investigation is still ongoing but the cause of the Regent fire appears to be accidental; he couldn’t confirm if a candle sparked it.
The fire originated from Dulce Bertuldo’s apartment, where she’d lived for 13 years and now has little to show. Bertuldo, who has health conditions, said there was no working fire alarm and her neighbors had to help carry her out.
“It spread so fast. I couldn’t even grab my purse or my medicine,” Bertuldo said. “It scared me but it started small so I tried to put it out with a glass of water, but it went really fast.”
Bertuldo’s apartment was completely destroyed and now uninhabitable, and two other units next to and below hers also sustained damage, Maupin said.
Power could not be disconnected from just the three affected apartments so all of the residents were evacuated and sent to hotels or to stay with others for the night, Maupin said.
Red Cross, which has assisted displaced residents from all three Redwood City fires, helped arrange temporary housing for the Regent Court residents. Jim Holley, a caseworker with the Red Cross, said volunteers are assisting with arranging stipends, medication and housing for those who will be displaced longer.
“But it’s not only the clothing and furniture, it’s pictures and medications all kinds of things. It’s very traumatic for them to go through a fire,” Holley said.
Most residents were allowed back in Monday to retrieve essential belongings and those whose apartments were furthest from Bertuldo’s are hopeful they may be allowed to return soon, said Pat Civiletti, who’s lived at Regent Court for nearly 25 years.
“I just felt really lucky, because there were a lot of children that were almost trapped,” Civiletti said. “At least no one got hurt.”
Civiletti said as tragic as Sunday’s fire was for her friend Bertuldo, their smaller complex was more fortunate than the two recent Woodside Road apartment fires.
On July 7, 2013, a six-alarm fire broke out at the Hallmark House Apartments, killing one and leaving nearly 100 homeless. On Oct. 17, a six-alarm fire destroyed the Terrace Apartments and displaced 60 residents; one who had also lost her home in the Hallmark House fire.
“The fact that they were so close together is quite honestly a coincidence, there’s nothing connecting those fires,” Maupin said. “The fact that there were no sprinklers in all of them, obviously is a huge issue for us and we’re literally in the middle right now, trying to find ways to assist the property owners to figure out how they can afford to retrofit their buildings with sprinklers.”
Maupin said he and Fire Chief Jim Skinner met with the state’s fire marshal to discuss ways to encourage property owners to install these critical safety features. Short of changing the building code, which could be extremely costly for property owners, it may be challenging to incentivize landlords to make the investment, Maupin said.
“Whether it’s helping [property owners] figure out ways to get grants or maybe some tax relief, there’s a myriad of ways we’re looking at,” Maupin said. “We don’t know the viability of any of them, so we’re also looking at some programs across the country to see if they’d work here.”
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