VALLEJO, Calif. (BCN) - Just after 12:30am, Nicholas Olmsted received an alert on his cell phone from his Nest camera that something was not right at the Kimberly Apartment Building.
“I get an alert first for movement from the smoke. It sends a notification to my phone as an alarm saying ‘Hey, there’s something going on here,” said Olmsted. “It takes readings of carbon monoxide, but to be truthful, it was the camera that sensed the movement first from the smoke.”
Olmsted and the rest of the 40 tenants in the Georgia Street apartment building made it out of the building without injury. Vallejo firefighters raised the call to a three alarm fire, but had it under control quickly. The fire was contained to just one unoccupied apartment on the second floor that was being remodeled. Fire crews quickly realized a pile of rags left in the construction zone caused the fire.
“It appears it was improperly disposed of rags that were soaked in chemicals and then ignited,” said Vallejo Fire’s Aaron Klauber. “With some chemicals, when you ball them up in rags, it creates an exothermic reaction over time. It creates heat and it can combust, smolder, and then develop into a fire over time.”
The Vallejo Fire Department said the Kimberly Apartment Building had long been a concern for firefighters.
“It’s pre-1940s construction, unreinforced masonry building built in 1924, so there are lots of void spaces. It wasn’t built to codes and standards of today, so fire can move within these buildings quickly,” said Klauber. “Insulation in the room of origin was shredded newspaper.”
The smoke detectors, emergency lights, and sprinkler system worked during the fire, but caused water damage on one floor. The building is red tagged until repairs can be made and the building brought back up to code.
“The most tragic part of this situation is that people will essentially be going straight from having their own apartment – families, elderly – to the streets. There’s no safety net in such a volatile rental market,” said Olmsted.
The Red Cross said it assisted 22 displaced residents and provided debit cards. The tenants were also given a case work hotline to call if they had issues securing housing.