It looks like a pathetic yard sale. There are soot-covered and charred objects scattered on the driveway and clothing draped on the fence, with more and more loads of stuff coming out each minute carried by sooty college students.
At around 6 a.m. Monday morning, four Cal Poly students escaped out of 381 Pismo St. after a fire broke out in their house. The three residents and a friend – all KCPR DJs – woke up to a “crackling” noise and fled the house after they saw smoke.
“It was the weirdest noise, I can’t get it out of my head,” journalism senior Jennifer Giese said, whose room was closest to the fire. She thought it was hail until she heard a crash – but even then, her mind didn’t consider the chance of fire. “I thought it was someone breaking in,” she said.
Giese and business senior Allison Peck – who had a broken collar bone – climbed out from first floor windows and Giese got her dog out through a window once outside.
Chemistry senior Diego Baptista and friend Michele Tondreau, a theatre major, dropped out of the second-story window onto the driveway from the loft they were sleeping in. Tondreau fractured her foot upon landing and was on crutches but was in pretty high spirits. In fact, all of them seemed grateful for what they had instead of what they had lost.
“My leg hurts, but I have my life,” Baptista said, who tried to lessen his fall by hanging from the window before letting go. “(Tondreau) went out the window and I followed her, but I was more careful.”
According to a firewoman, “If I hadn’t left my door shut while I slept, I would have died,” Giese said.
The official cause of the fire is still unknown, but it began in the living room. Giese thinks it started from an old outlet that sparked somehow, since a laptop was plugged in and charging on the sofa. The sofa then caught on fire which spread to the rest of the living room. None of them heard the smoke detectors go off, and they guessed the batteries had probably died.
Giese, Baptista and Peck have lived together in the house for three years and are graduating in June, so they’ve accumulated a lot of things that are now destroyed. They hoped to live together through the end of their senior year, but now they’ll have to take what they can get in terms of housing.
Almost everything in the living room was melted or burned, and no one would ever guess that the walls were once white. At least 10 people were continuously taking loads of salvageable items out of the house: fellow KCPR DJs who came to help out their friends.
“Every time I turn around someone new is there and is, like, ‘can I help?’” Giese said. “KCPR is more than a radio station, it’s like our own support group.”
Everyone mourned the loss together as they came upon more damaged goods. Tondreau’s laptop was the one that caught fire first and is now unrecognizable: just a thin, metal rectangular frame and something that slightly resembles a motherboard remains.
“Did anyone find Smash Brothers at all?” Baptista inquired after his game. Unfortunately, DVDs, gaming systems, video games and parts of Baptista’s extensive record collection were melted together and ruined.
“The outside records were beat up, and the ones on the inside (of the stacks) look a little different. We’ll see how they play,” he said. That’ll have to wait though – his turntable is completely melted.
Baptista and some of his friends were highly amused when they found a composition book full of chemistry notes unharmed under the living room coffee table, and had already called the professor to tell him.
There’s never a good time for a fire, but it just so happens to be Monday of finals week, the quarter before they all plan to graduate.
“People keep asking me about finals, but school is the last thing on my mind,” Giese said.
“Everything I owned in my adult life, everything I ever worked for (is in that house).” She was using Method all-purpose cleaner on books, pictures and other items in her room in attempts to save some of it.
“Everyone thinks ‘what would you grab?’ and I just got the hell out of there,” Giese said.
For now, the San Luis Obispo County chapter of the Red Cross is providing them with space in a local motel, volunteer William Farmer said. The Red Cross can also provide a preloaded credit card for essentials like clothing, toiletries and food, but it’s not always needed.
“They’ve indicated that they only really need housing,” Farmer said. The local Red Cross is contacted by the fire department so they can make temporary arrangements for those affected by fire or other disasters.
The living room has the most damage from the actual fire but the entire house has blackened walls and smoke damaged property.
Early estimates of the damage to the house are between $70,000 to $100,000, which doesn’t include any of the students’ possessions.
Giese speculated that since the house is old and been given so much damage, it is likely to be demolished.
They did not have renter’s insurance, but believe that the laptop battery that may have started the fire was recalled, which may help in getting their Realtor some insurance money.