San pedro fireNOTE:  This article about the 4/17/15 fire in San Pedro is a perfect example why COPE Preparedness promotes the “Map Your Neighborhood” (MYN) 9-Step community preparedness program. In an emergency or disaster it’s often survivors helping and rescuing other survivors before first responders arrive on the scene. This article gives a recent local example of just that.

Photo courtesy of Chris Villanueva Firefighters work to extinguish a house fire that spread to nearby vegetation in San Pedro Friday.

Neighbors grabbed garden hoses and raced door to door Friday afternoon when a wind-whipped fire exploded in their San Pedro neighborhood, torching a house and garage, palm trees and hillsides before firefighters were able to stop it from spreading.

The fire erupted shortly after 5 p.m. in the 700 block of West Oliver Court. Winds of 14 mph, gusting to 22 mph, fanned the flames, Los Angeles City Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

“I smelled it and then I walked out and looked over toward Bandini Canyon and the palm trees were just engulfed,” said Mary Zeitler who lives in an apartment building at the end of a cul-de-sac near the affected homes. “We all started pounding on doors and grabbed garden hoses.”

They especially made sure one neighbor, who is handicapped, was safely outside as they teamed up to do what they could before firefighters arrived.

When the fire jumped the street and raced up a hillside toward Gaffey Street, where many homeless regularly camp, Zeitler said, “You could hear people running and screaming, ‘Get out! Get out!’ ”

A children’s playground area survived, she said, but Bandini Canyon Park, recently landscaped and beautified by the city, was affected. The 5-acre Bandini Canyon Trail project cost $1.4 million and opened in 2010.

Windows in the destroyed house appeared to be either blown out or melted, Zeitler said as she surveyed the area after the fire was out.

About 100 firefighters battled the flames, which also damaged a row of vegetation that included the palm trees.

Firefighters dispatched two helicopters to watch for flying embers, but no water drops were required, Humphrey said.

Residents of the home left on their own. No one was hurt.

The cause was not immediately known.

Wind-driven embers in dry vegetation posed a problem for firefighters, Humphrey said.

“Holy crap, the wind was blowing so hard there were times when you literally could not even see,” Zeitler said.

By the time firefighters arrived, within minutes, Zeitler said, “the fire was huge … and the crackling noise — wow.”

The entire area, which also is not far from San Pedro’s 1.1-acre Welcome Park on Gaffey Street, was very dry, Zeitler said.

“I walk here every day and (the ground) crunches,” she said. “It was dry, and not just sort-of, kind-of dry.”

The area is just east of — and down a back hillside — from a property the city is in the process of purchasing at 427 N. Gaffey St. where a large billboard and blue building sit at the end of the 110 Freeway. Those properties apparently were not burned.

“When I came back to my apartment, I couldn’t figure out what smelled so bad — then I realized it was me, my clothes just reeked,” Zeitler said. “I threw them away and shampooed my hair three times.”

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