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June 28, 2022

Fireworks were likely cause of Gilroy house fire

Longtime residents of London Place in southwest Gilroy were
forced from their home Sunday night after what was likely an errant
and illegal firework set their roof ablaze.
Longtime residents of London Place in southwest Gilroy were forced from their home Sunday night after what was likely an errant and illegal firework set their roof ablaze.

Firefighters said they couldn’t determine the cause immediately but believed that a firework landed on the wood-shingle roof.

Just before 11:30 p.m. Sunday, resident Ben Edwards stepped into his backyard at 100 London Place to smoke a cigarette.

“I saw a glow that didn’t belong there,” said Edwards, 39.

He screamed to his sister to call 911 and to his parents who were asleep in their upstairs bedroom, directly under where the roof caught fire. Edwards, his sister, parents, uncle and two dogs herded themselves into the street and watched as firefighters put out the blaze. There were no injuries.

“I’ve got nothing but praise for those guys,” said Edwards’ father, Ben Antrim, 64, the house’s original owner. “One of them just had sweat streaming off him but that didn’t slow him down a bit.”

Bought back in 1984, “this house has been through flood, earthquake and now fire. All we’re missing now is a typhoon,” Antrim said Monday afternoon, the smell of smoke still thick in the air. Standing in the center of his bedroom among piles of insulation that had rained down from the attic the night before, Antrim peered up through the hole firefighters made in his ceiling to get to the blaze. He pointed to a group of houses to the southeast as the source of the firework he believes burned his home. Without the proper enforcement, incidents like this will continue to happen, he said.

“I give up complaining,” he said.

Antrim’s family spent Sunday night in a Morgan Hill hotel and planned to do the same Monday night, thanks to the assistance of the American Red Cross.

“This is a great country we live in,” Edwards said, holding up the debit card he had been issued by the Red Cross. “The firefighters – they were on it. We’re all just happy to be alive.”

To avoid burning the houses of innocent residents in the future, firefighters suggested abiding by the law and either using the “safe and sane” fireworks sold at 16 city-sanctioned booths throughout Gilroy leading up to July 4 or attending the free show put on at Gilroy High School.

“It’s an awesome show,” Fire Captain Joshua Valverde said. “If you have the urge to get your pyrotechnic fix, grab a lawn chair, not a bottle rocket.”

With three engines from Gilroy and one from the South Santa Clara County Fire District responding, firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze before it spread. Other than a soggy carpet littered with ash and insulation, the master bedroom took the only hit. Sections of the roof lay in a pile in the backyard of the two-story, blue house.

The number of calls for service for Gilroy’s police and fire departments and the number of citations issued weren’t available due to the holiday Monday. Still, firefighters said they noticed “a surge in illegal activity.”

“The Fourth is always a busy day for us,” Valverde said.

Though the union that represents the Gilroy firefighters recently agreed to staff three firefighters to an engine instead of the traditional four, which took effect July 1, the department had planned to staff four to an engine on Independence Day, “in anticipation that it’s historically a busy night,” Valverde said. The firefighters who responded credited the presence of that fourth man as the reason for putting out the fire before it spread.

“Having the staff of four helped,” Valverde said. “The fire had the potential to spread a lot faster. The fact that we had two men inside made a substantial difference.”

Firefighters are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to work in pairs, and for every man inside the structure, there needs to be one on the outside, they explained. If only three had been on the first engine, they would have been required to wait for another engine to arrive before entering the home.

Firefighter-Paramedic Heinz Maibaum was one of the first on the scene and worked with his partner to extinguish the flames from the inside. As they pulled up to the structure, they could see the glow of the flames that burned the roof at the rear of the house, Maibaum said. Many of the houses in that neighborhood, which were built in the 1980s, have wooden shingles, which burn easily, firefighters said. Antrim said he plans to re-shingle his roof entirely.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Maibaum said.

The cooler weather, which dipped into the 50s, and fog that rolled in Sunday night also helped firefighters contain the blaze.

Fireworks also caused a quarter-acre vegetation fire near Murphy and San Martin avenues north of Gilroy. The fire started about 9:15 p.m. Sunday, said CalFire Battalion Chief Jim Crawford. No structures were damaged and no one was injured, he said.

“We’re not sure what type of fireworks, but it was fireworks,” he said.

Gilroy firefighters stayed busy Sunday night with in-town calls as well as a mutual aid call to help fight a five-alarm fire that burned Trace Elementary School in San Jose. The Gilroy Fire Department sent one truck to that fire, which raged from about 4 to 7 a.m. Monday morning and consumed the main classroom building. It has not been determined if fireworks were the cause of that fire.

Firefighters noticed “a lot going on” in the neighborhood surrounding Gilroy High School and on the east side of Gilroy, though they received reports of illegal fireworks throughout the city, they said.

Meanwhile, the Independence Day Weekend anti-drunk driving crackdown, Avoid the 13, resulted in a significant number of DUI arrests. From Friday to Sunday, officers representing 15 county law enforcement agencies arrested 72 individuals – five in Gilroy – for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department. However, these numbers are provisional with some agencies yet to report. In 2009, 95 DUI arrests occurred during the same 72-hour period.

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