SLO fire likely started by a cigarette

March 7, 2012

Photograph by Pete Evans

A weekend San Luis Obispo house fire that injured five people apparently began on a couch, possibly started by a cigarette, fire officials said.

Nine people in their 20s escaped the blaze of the white two-story older home early on the corner of Johnson Avenue and Buchon Street early Sunday, and none of the home’s smoke detectors were found to have batteries in them.

One of the nine students living in the home jumped out of a second story window, onto a porch cover, and to the ground where she gashed her head on the steps. Emergency personnel transported her to a local hospital.

Five of the students were transported for medical care to a local hospital. One student suffering from smoke inhalation was transported to a burn unit in Fresno.

“This is a tragic event and we are thankful the injuries were not more severe,” Fire Marshall Rodger Maggio said.

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Still waiting to see if there is a report that becomes public about the number of smoke alarms in the house, the locations of any additional detectors, if any of them were in working order, and how the one reported so far that was not working if it had been disabled on purpose or intentionally. It would also be educational to find out if the wiring in the front of the house had any bearing on this fire; reading the the first report of this fire there was a mention by some of the tenants that they had checked on a “funny smell” a couple of times during the evening. There is still more to this story to be told, IMO.

I must say, the fire certainly revealed what a low-budget approach the owners were using when they recently “fixed” up that place. That cheap aluminum siding sure looks classy when it’s been toasted. I’m sure they put about as much thought into making any changes with regard to safety. Not blaming them, just sayin…

I think you may be wrong about the siding; it appears up close to be vinyl siding which actually melted somewhat during the fire. Being that the house was around a hundred years old, the owner most likely did not want to pay for a lead paint abatement procedure so instead they just covered it up. Look a little more closely at some of the pictures to see if you don’t notice how some of the siding appears to be “melted”, which aluminum can do, it just has to get super hot to “melt”.

Yeah I did notice that but I drive by the house every day and it appeared to be metallic and shiny, though you’re right it clearly melted in some places. It just sort of made me chuckle because the house looked really bad for years, and it looked like they had finally decided to put some care into a place that could’ve been a really great old house…but the fire told a different story lol.

Yet another house fire caused by cigarettes. At the apartment complex I lived in down in Los Angeles, we had no less than THREE minor fires caused by smokers in a period of 5 years. Any one of those could have killed someone if they had not been caught in time. I would love to see the fire department statistics on what percentage of residential fires are suspected of being accidentally ignited by people engaging in this disgusting habit.

Hopefully more apartment complexes move to having zero tolerance on smoking. Lung cancer from cigarettes can kill you over time, but a dropped cigarette can kill you in a house fire right now!

In my experience, you really gotta be trying if you manage to start a fire with a cigarette.

Not trying to start anything with you Danika (as I agree with you most of the time) but here is a couple problems I see with your comment. Landlords asking for copy of tenant’s insurance? Most aren’t going to have renters insurance till they rent? Nothing to cover till then. And seeing most of these college students are usually away from home and renting for the first time, no prior history either.

As far as the landlord having good insurance overall, for him and tenants property, I would venture to guess in today’s litigious society he probably does.

P.S. the neg ins’t mine.

Landlords cannot insure property belonging to the tenants, but only his own. Most insurance companies insuring rented property require the landlord obtain copies of policies for their tenants. No prior history of insurance is required for an Tenant Homeowner policy. The policy actually is designed for minimum tenant property, usually $15k or $20k of contents, and $100,000 of liability. It is worthy to note that the tenant policy CAN move with the tenant, unlike a homeowners policy, which is underwritten by owned structure and cannot be moved when the property owner does. Having a Tenant policy for 5 months is not unusual for the policy form. The company certainly does want the renter to maintain the policy for long term, but there is no restriction on how long they must maintain the policy when it is bound. Of course, there is no need to have a Renters policy until you rent but if you are a landlord, it is prudent to require your tenants have one and give you a copy of it.

Danika, it’s been so long since I had renters insurance, I didn’t realize it could go with you. Also didn’t realize a owner of a stucture couldn’t insure the tenants belongs. I would hope that this being the case, that the law is written as such that any loss by tenants can not come back and sue owner?? Thanks for the info.

Again though I would go back to the litigious world we live and bet he has probably got himself covered, like most of us business people do.

I have been in the insurance industry for 30 years and I could tell you some stories about our “litigious” world!

BTDT, liability created by a tenant can and often does come back to roost to the landlord. That is why having your tenants show renters coverage is important. It’s the liability that is the issue to the property owner, not the contents. The landlord has no “insurable interest” in the contents and not responsible for their loss UNLESS the landlord is somehow negligent. That is an entirely different subject. Note: pets are a huge reason for liability litigation (as are children). This is the driving force behind many landlords not allowing pets in the rentals. Liability. Your pets and your children (under 18) are often covered under your CPL, comprehensive personal liability, which ALL homeowner, renters, dwellings rented to other should have. Some companies exclude pet liability specifically in their policy language. If in doubt, ask your agent. That is what we are here for!

danika: It’s easy for you to think of renter’s insurance because you are in the industry. But I doubt most 20 y.o. students are concerned about types of insurance that aren’t required by the state (car insurance), or that pay for prescription STD medication, or covers a trip to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning.

The most valuable things these students owned were probably a notebook computer and college textbooks. A simple boo-hoo story to mommy and daddy blaming the fire on someone else will easily replace those items. Other than that, I doubt they would consider paying for insurance to cover their furnishing made from milk crates, cinder blocks, and old pallets. Or sofas and mattresses that were likely from Goodwill.

$200 a year is very affordable for renter’s insurance. But $200 also pays for a couple of good nights of binge drinking in the clubs dowtown. When I was 20 y.o., I think I would have chosen the latter.

SLO, I do understand the budgeting of the college student. I was one myself! There is likely going to be long term financial reprocussions to any and all persons who are on the rental contract for this building based on the findings of cause of loss. These renters will be held responsible and a renters insurance policy WOULD have provided benefit to the liability portion of this damage, not to mention the contents lost by the students. Our young people don’t always make the best choices, do they?

Renters insurance may be able to move but each policy does take into consideration the type of structure the renter is living in, at least my policy does. When I got each of my policies, I have moved a few times in my decades in the area, they ask about the age of the structure, number of units if multi units, type of building material, i.e. wood, brick, stucco and so on. They also ask about items that would be unique to every unit. The answer to these questions effect the rate I receive, plus a monthly policy, if possible, I would expect to be higher. I always had 12 month coverage, and currently do pay monthly premiums. When I have moved my old policy was always canceled and a new policy written because each new place I moved into had differences that affected my policy.

These are just my experiences

I have never had a landlord ask if I have renters insurance and my policies have never been subject to what or any insurance my landlord has. No questions have been asked about my landlord when setting up my insurance, which I usually do after moving in.

The structure of the building is not as important on a renters policy in comparison to a home owned structure. The updates to buildings older than 20 years for electrical, heating, plumbing, roofing is important for ALL kinds of property insured. Note: the premium would be billed monthly, the coverage is annual. If I bind a renters policy for, say $120.00, the downpayment is $25.00 and the 10 installments could be $9.00 plus whatever billing fee the company charges. For that $9.00 a month, that renter is getting at the very LEAST $15,000 in contents coverage AND $100,000 in Liability coverage. That is NOT a bad deal.

It is the liability and medical coverage of the renters policy that would come into play in this loss. The contents portion would be brought in for the loss of the tenants personal belongings.

Landlords do not think to question their tenants about coverage. I would imagine the owner of this damaged structure now wishes he had. I am certain his insurance company is going to ask the question. My intent on this thread when I first posted was to bring up an very important matter to the tenant/landlord relationship and to give insight to those who may be or have entered into the rental agreement. Trust me, if you are a landlord, your insurance company WANTS all of your tenants to have liability coverage….subrogation is the reason why…

It is highly likely none of these people have a simple renters insurance policy. Note to landlords…these kinds of things really do happen. Getting a copy of your tenant’s insurance policy when they rent from you can only help you against these kinds of situations. Renters? Insurance for your liability and personal property isn’t as expensive as you may think. Companies offer Tenant Homeowner policies in SLO city for well under $200.00 a year and you can pay monthly.. Confirmed pricing is subject to individual underwriting. I am not advertising here. I am simply giving info that may help future tenants and landlords.