Arson Ruled Out in Building Site Fire

Times Staff Writer

A fire that destroyed three partially completed houses and damaged two others in the Quartz Hill area this week was accidentally touched off by a plumber's torch and was not the work of an arsonist, county fire officials reported Wednesday.

The news eased earlier fears that someone might be trying to burn houses under construction in the Antelope Valley. Fire officials had considered that as a possibility because of a suspected arson fire Aug. 15 in nearby Palmdale that destroyed 20 unfinished houses and damaged two others.

"We were really concerned with the other one last week and now this one" Tuesday night, said Capt. Stan Hook, head of the Los Angeles County Fire Department's fire investigation unit. "People were thinking, 'Boy, what do we have going here.' "

But investigators ruled out arson in this week's fire, which caused about $230,000 in damage to houses in the Crystal Meadows development, after interviewing a plumber who had been working in the house where the blaze started, officials said. There were no injuries.

Fire officials did not disclose exactly how the 6:01 p.m. fire began but blamed a torch that plumbers use to solder copper pipe. "These plumber fires occur quite often, but they normally carry around a little bottle of water," Fire Capt. Ray Valasek said.

All of the wood-frame structures in Tuesday's fire, which 20 firefighters contained in about 25 minutes, were unoccupied. They were scheduled to be completed in mid-October as part of a 60-unit project being built by P&V; Enterprises near 52nd Street West and Avenue L-8.

Ron Naquin, project superintendent for the developer, said purchasers had already reserved all of the houses in the tract. Completion of those damaged by the fire should be delayed about a month. "Right now we naturally do a cleanup, then we start framing again," he said.

Naquin said a subcontractor, Enduro Plumbing of Lancaster, had begun work in the house where the fire started earlier that day. Enduro officials could not be reached for comment.

Fire officials said they were grateful for winds that helped them contain this week's blaze. Winds of about 20 m.p.h. blew the flames away from the structures, limiting most of the damage to three units on Alcoy Court.

Last week's wind-driven fire caused about $1.5 million in damage in the California Dawn development being built by Kaufman & Broad about 12 miles to the east in Palmdale. Sheriff's investigators believe that fire was caused by arson but have yet to disclose a specific cause or suspect.

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