Updated at 6:25 p.m. April 18, 2012
Patrick Gonzalez says he heard the knocks on the door and warnings of fire. So he calmly got out of bed, strapped on his wooden and steel prosthetic legs, dressed and fled a fire with his wife and tenant Wednesday morning at his Pile Street home of 30 years.
A Marine veteran of Vietnam, he lost his legs 13 months into his tour—and 4 hours before he was set for R&R and his final days in country.
On Wednesday, a nearby Forest Service station was the first to respond to the 8:05 a.m. call, but Gonzalez already was out with a hose spraying down the roof.
“I put my legs on, my clothes and came out,” Gonzalez said after neighbors roused him and his wife, Karen, from their sleep. Karen fetched a small terrier-type dog and escaped, along with a tenant named John Marshall.
“He lost everything,” Gonzalez, 62, said of the 10-year tenant.
The American Red Cross was due out to help the household with lodging, said fire officials.
The blaze of unknown cause started in his garage workshop, the owner said. But he didn’t think it was a wood-fueled heating unit.
“I’ve had the wood burner in there for two years and never had a problem,” Gonzalez said.
His daughter, a senior at at Ramona High School, was at school when at least 11 units of Cal Fire Ramona, Barona Fire and the Forest Service arrived, said Cal Fire spokesman Mike Mohler.
The blaze—seen as a black plume for miles around—was confined to the house in the 400 block of Pile Street on rolling ranchland just north of Ramona. It was knocked down at 8:55 a.m., Mohler said, but hot spots were being doused as late as 9:30 a.m.
About 2,500 gallons of water was needed to douse the blaze, which burned especially hot because of Christmas decorations stored in the attic, said Ramona Fire Capt. Don Davis.
Gonzalez, who told of earlier wildfires near his hilltop home overlooking Ramona, said he lost his power tools and motorcycle and his tenant—former neighbor Marshall—had lost all his belongings in an attached apartment of the 2,400-square-foot house, which has four bedrooms and three baths.
The fire also cut power to the house—bringing an SDG&E crew to restore the line.
Mohler said the fire was under investigation.
A fire of undetermined origin caused an estimated $80,000 worth of damage to a home in a rural East County neighborhood and left four people in need of interim lodging.
The blaze in the 400 block of East Pile Street in Ramona was reported about 8 a.m., according to Cal Fire.
It took crews more than an hour to fully subdue the flames, which erupted in an attached garage before spreading to the single-story residence, said Mike Mohler, a captain with the state agency.
One firefighter suffered minor hand burns while dousing the blaze. He did not require hospital treatment, Mohler said.
The American Red Cross was called in to help the displaced residents, all adults, arrange for emergency housing.
The cause of the fire, which also damaged a parked vehicle, was under investigation, though it appeared to have been accidental, Mohler said.
City News Service contributed to this report.