Two Explosions Rock Neighborhood as Frazier Park House Burns

  • View of Blanche Farnum's home on Idaho Trail in Frazier Park as it burned Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. The fire was reported at about 7:20 a.m. Two explosions brought the neighbors running to her aid. [Christian Suorsa photo]

    View of Blanche Farnum's home on Idaho Trail in Frazier Park as it burned Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. The fire was reported at about 7:20 a.m. Two explosions brought the neighbors running to her aid. [Christian Suorsa photo]

By Patric Hedlund

UPDATE: Frazier Park, CA (Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009, 10 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 19)—Stacey Balbona heard two large "booms," shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday morning. The second one shook the side of her house. She ran to the door and saw flames leaping from the roof of her neighbor’s garage at the very end of Idaho Trail in Frazier Park. She quickly called 911. Blanche Farnum, a widow who lives alone, emerged from the front door of her burning home, dazed and confused, then turned and re-entered the house. Neighbor Mike Suorsa dashed across the street without shoes to bring her out of the building and over to his own home while his wife Christen and Stacey Balbona both made repreated calls to Station 57 and 911 dispatchers.

Firefighters from Frazier Park arrived on scene in a tanker truck, but Kern County’s budget cutbacks have reduced them to a two-person crew. Safety protocol requires that a minimum of three firefighters be on scene before one can enter a burning building. The first responders were unable to enter the house until additional personnel arrived. The two pumped water on the blaze, but the flames jumped into the rafters and vaporized the insulation. Flames burned through the roof and jumped into the air. Another tanker arrived from Lebec, then one from Mettler, a fourth from Kern County  and one from L.A. County’s Gorman station. Firefighters pumped down the water supply of three tankers within a few minutes, trying to extinguish the blaze. They couldn’t find a fire hydrant, Gary Balbona said. Finally, they discovered one down on Dakota Trail. The U.S. Forest Service also arrived to help. They moved furniture out of the home. About 30 firefighters eventually responded, but the home suffered about $400,000 in damage, a Kern County Fire Department release estimated.

"It is an eye-opener," Stacey and Gary Balbona said. "We moved here in 2006. No one ever pointed out there was no fire hydrant near us." They also said they were told that if there had been snow on the steep, rutted dirt trail the engines would not have been able to enter the area. "Why doest the county give building permits without demanding that the fire hydrant and fire access be adequate?" the couple asked. 

Greg Keenberg, manager of the Frazier Park Public Utilities District (FPPUD), said that the Dakota hydrant was within the county’s specifications of about 500 feet, but said the water pressure in the Idaho Trail area is low because they are so close to the Jim Young water tank that supplies the area. "All pressure in this area is from gravity," Keenberg said, "and these homes are really high on the hill." Though Mike Suorza said his family paid $9,000 to extend a six-inch distribution pipe to the east end of Idaho Trail when they built their home there five years ago, Keenberg reported Monday that the line coming from the tank is itself only four inches. He said that needs to be changed to an eight-inch feeder line in Phase Three of the FPPUD system upgrades.

Neighbors praised the firefighters, relating how hard they struggled to put the fire down. "They used everything they had available, including pumping foam onto the flames to stop the fire in the insulation," they said. Utility companies arrived rapidly to secure electrical lines and gas pipes. The neighborhood did not lose electricity. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. One report says greasy rags used to stain a deck were left in open air, leading to combustion, but this has not been confirmed.

Stacey Balbona said the neighborhood leapt into action to help Farnum, but "she’s grief-stricken, she feels she’s lost everything—’I’m homeless and car-less,’" Balbona quoted Farnum, a senior citizen, as saying. Smoke damage was severe, "ruining her furniture and her clothes." Fortunately, Farnum’s sister and brother-in-law live nearby and she is staying with them. The Shelter On The Hill Thrift Store has offered to let her choose anything she needs at no cost, according to neighbor and thrift store volunteer Judy Cadman.

More will be reported about this story in the print issue of The Mountain Enterprise on October 23, 2009.

FRAZIER PARK, CA (Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009, 11 a.m.)—From Kern County Fire Department: At approximately 7:20 a.m. this morning Kern County Firefighters responded to a structure fire at 3401 Idaho Trail in Frazier Park, California.

Kern County Firefighters arrived to find a fourteen hundred square feet house with active fire in it. The owner of the house was able to get out unharmed.

There were four Kern County Fire engines and one Los Angeles County engine with approximately 30 firefighters on scene battling the blaze. No injuries were reported.

The estimated loss to the structure is approximately four hundred thousand dollars.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Note: Thanks to community reporter Robert Curlee, who reported this incident to The Mountain Enterprise this morning.

This is part of the October 16, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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