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COUNTYWIDE : Fires Damage Two Buildings, House

A group of youths is suspected of causing a fire that raced through an unoccupied Cowan Heights home, while two unrelated blazes gutted a commercial building in Orange and a vacant mortuary in Fullerton, officials said Monday.

Damage estimates for two of the fires totaled more than $660,000. No estimate was available in the mortuary fire.

The worst of the fires consumed a commercial building in the 1800 block of East Orangewood Avenue in Orange at 5:40 a.m. Monday, causing an estimated $500,000 damage.

Fire officials said it was a stroke of luck that three Orange firefighters escaped serious injury when a heavy tile roof collapsed. The roof fell just moments after they left the office building to check on low water pressure.

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“It could have been very ugly,” said Orange Battalion Chief Dave Rudat. “The roof caved in almost immediately after they left the top floor to check on a hose. . . . We were very fortunate.”

Officials said an off-duty security guard reported smoke billowing from the two-story office complex. By the time firefighters arrived, the entire area was engulfed in smoke.

“There was no wind, and the smoke was just hanging on the street level,” Orange Fire Inspector Gary Conniff said. “We couldn’t tell which building was on fire.”

At least 45 firefighters from Orange, Anaheim and the Orange County Fire Department battled the flames for about 90 minutes. Plumes of smoke were still visible from the Santa Ana Freeway after 9 a.m.

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The three-alarm fire destroyed five second-floor offices. Five lower-level offices sustained major water and smoke damage, Conniff said.

Rudat said firefighters prevented thousands of dollars in further damage when they placed canvas covers over computers and office equipment on the lower level.

“My heart sank when I showed up for work and saw the building,” said Gerald Anderson, a salesman with Diamond Match Co., which occupies an office on the first floor. “You never really expect these things to happen.”

The Cowan Heights fire, investigators believe, was deliberately set shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday by several youths who then fled the vacant house in the 12200 block of Circula Panorama. Orange County Fire Capt. Dan Young said the house is owned by Black Diamonds Equity Development of Santa Ana and is in an unincorporated part of the county.

“We have two groups of witnesses who saw the juveniles leaving the structure minutes before the fire was reported,” Young said. “The house is a hangout for local kids, and police are often called out to the house at night to remove troublemakers.”

Young said it took firefighters about 50 minutes to control the fire. Damage to the house was estimated at $160,000.

Another fire shortly before 5 a.m. Monday gutted a vacant building that once housed a mortuary in Fullerton. The flames threatened to spread to nearby businesses, including a McDonald’s restaurant, but firefighters were able to bring the fire under control in about 30 minutes, a Fullerton Fire Department spokesman said. No damage estimate was available.


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