SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KTVU) - Fire investigators are trying to determine what started a 4-alarm fire that destroyed a townhome site under construction. They have also released a person of interest who was detained earlier on Friday.
Firefighters were in mop-up operations for most of Friday afternoon at El Camino Real between Scott Boulevard and Lincoln Street, where they made sure to get plenty of water on the smoldering ruins so it doesn’t reignite.
“I just seen like the workers running. Like nervous and scared. And when I looked outside it was a little, little fire. And then the whole building went up in flames,” said Maricela Cruz, who works at a Popeye’s Chicken fast food restaurant that’s next to the fire scene.
In the blink of an eye, the little fire grew into a goliath.
The Fox 2 News helicopter, SkyFOX, circled overhead, as smoke and flames billowed into the air from the fire.
Firefighters from Santa Clara and San Jose formed a defensive line along El Camino Real between Scott Blvd and Lincoln St, to prevent embers from spreading flames to other structures.
“Fire started in this corner over here and spread. So the fire was in a frame building which causes rapid flames to spread,” said Bill Kelly, fire chief of the Santa Clara Fire Department.
Construction crews working both below and above ground ran for their lives while trying to save their comrades.
“The superintendent saw the smoke, and he said, ‘Hey smoke! Fire!’ And then we all ran over and we could see people in the windows... And before they could even disappear like they were going to leave, the roof caught fire. It happened so fast,” said Damian Sanders, an electrical construction worker who was working at the scene when the fire started.
Residents went door-to-door to alert neighbors and others got their garden hoses to wet down roofs.
"The thing I can do is just get my big long hose and spray their roof a little bit, just in case you know," resident, Mostafa Masri said.
The Anantara Villas was a development of 56 luxury townhomes, priced from the high six-figures to over a million dollars.
Officials say its location made it a valuable site for redevelopment, not far from the Santa Clara Town Center mall.
“When I saw the big plume of black smoke in the air, my heart fell into my stomach,” said Mayor Lisa Gillmor, (D) Santa Clara.
She said while she’s thankful there were no deaths and only one injury -- a worker jumping to safety sprained an ankle -- the loss of what would have been new housing; albeit luxury housing, is felt across the South Bay.
“That is a shame. Because that project was a wonderful project that would have provided much-needed housing, and affordable housing for Santa Clara. To see it just go up in smoke like that is really heartbreaking,” said Gillmor.
Santa Clara police confirm one person is being detained and questioned in connection with the fire. But the official cause is still under investigation.
Representatives with the property’s developer, Legend USA, issued a statement that reads in part, “We will work with local authorities and related companies to conduct a thorough review of what happened and how to effectively prevent any such instances from happening in the future.”
Santa Clara police say the detained person has not been arrested or charged, but is being questioned.