As a plume of smoke rose from a one-car garage in Santa Ana on Monday morning, neighbors who knew that a family lived inside rushed to pry open its door.
The family of three or four people, some of them children, was able to escape by exiting through the house, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi. The 7:50 a.m. blaze in the 1200 block of South Magnolia Avenue was probably sparked by a cellphone charger that short-circuited, he said.
Neighbors who were unaware the family had escaped tried frantically to open the garage's tightly shut doors as they called 911.
"The garage was secure, so the neighbors couldn't get in from the outside; and even if the fire started inside the house, they could be trapped because it has no windows," Concialdi said. "It could become a death trap."
The flames also damaged part of the adjoining 1,000-square-foot home, Concialdi said. The garage was destroyed.
A total of 12 people lived on the property.
"Garages are not designed for occupancy, and they do not have smoke alarms," Concialdi said. "We've seen fatal fires before in garages."
The structural damage was estimated at $40,000, and $20,000 in lost contents in the garage. It took 30 firefighters about 15 minutes to extinguish the blaze, Concialdi said.
[For the Record 2:05 p.m. PST Feb. 25: An earlier version of this post said it took firefighters 30 minutes to put out the fire, it took 15 minutes.]