|Buildings are engulfed as flames burn out of control - Photo by Ebbe Weile
A devastating fire led to the destruction of several structures west of the airstrip in San Pedro in the early morning hours last Saturday, leaving several families homeless and one business completely destroyed. A fire of undetermined origin began in the residence of Jose Felix Ayuso Jr. on Lions Street and quickly spread to surrounding buildings.
San Pedro Fire Department received a call to the area at approximately 1:40 a.m. Upon their arrival, they witnessed a wooden bungalow completely engulfed in flames. Efforts to contain the fire failed repeatedly because of an electrical malfunction in the priming device of the first fire truck dispatched. According to Chief Henry Baizer of the National Fire Service, the second fire truck, an older model engine, was unable to pump from an "open source" (lagoon or sea) and sought water from a fire hydrant. Attempts to draw water from the hydrant at the airstrip were unsuccessful as well. Meantime, more than a hundred homeowners and residents of the island worked hand-in-hand in a furious bucket brigade to put out the fire as manual efforts continued to prime the hose of the first fire truck on the scene. SP firefighters were finally successful in pumping water but by that time the fire had already rapidly spread to neighboring buildings. As a result, a total of seven structures were completely destroyed amounting to estimated damages totaling nearly a million dollars.
San Pedro Town Fire Chief Andrew Nunez categorically denied reports circulated about visiting Los Angeles Fire Department personnel on the scene assisting in the fire fighting efforts. In defense of the department's priming malfunction, he stated that the device on the newer of the two fire department vehicles was in good working order during routine maintenance performed by fire department personnel. A National Fire Service electrician confirmed the electrical malfunction of the priming device on Saturday and it was repaired.
Captain Shark's Marine Shop, the only business affected by the fire, suffered the bulk of the damages as the entire building and all of its merchandise was destroyed. They have since moved to a new location on Coconut Drive but have immediate plans of rebuilding. Many of the residents in the neighborhood were awakened by the early morning fire and forced to evacuate their homes with only the clothes on their backs, losing all their possessions to the flames.
The fire was reportedly extinguished at 3:50 a.m. It was initially believed to have been deliberately set, but a single suspect who was detained for questioning has since been released. Investigation into the source of the blaze continues.