A house fire left one elderly woman in the hospital and caused $50,000 in damages.
On Tuesday Feb. 11, at about 4:18 a.m., a fire engine was dispatched on the report of a fire at 931 Via Nieto in the Hope Ranch Annex area. Once firefighters arrived, the people who had called 911 told them that smoke was entering their home through a vent. Initially they thought the fire was in their own home, however by the time firefighters arrived, they realized the smoke was coming out of their neighbor’s home and that she might be trapped inside.
When the two rescuers broke down the neighbor’s door and entered the residence, the smoke was so thick and heavy that they had less than 18 inches from the floor of visibility, Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. Capt. Charlie Johnson said. The rescuers found Kathleen Cornich in her bedroom on the floor at the foot of her bed. Cornich, around 60 years old, was unconscious from smoke inhalation.
By the time the firefighters brought Cornich outside she had stopped breathing. They were able to revive her within moments and transferred her to Cottage Hospital. Two other engines arrived on the scene and firefighters cut a hole in the roof of the duplex to vent out smoke. Johnson said the hole acts as a chimney by venting some of the smoke; visibility within the structure increased immediately.
Johnson said this rescue was unusual because firefighters typically approach fire hazards with what they call the “two in, two out” rule, which means they can only enter a blazing building with two firefighters entering and two preparing extinguishing tactics outside. The one exception to this rule is if a rescue has to be done immediately.
Three firefighters arrived at the scene first; therefore they entered the building for the sole purpose of rescuing the trapped woman, not to extinguish the fire, Johnson said. The fire was relatively small and contained within the kitchen, however it had a long time to build up heat and smoke in the residence. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Johnson said significant damage was not done to the structure itself, but the cosmetics of the building and kitchen appliances will be costly. Cornich did have a smoke alarm, however the batteries inside were dead.
“The Chief described this as a well-orchestrated football play. This is essentially the kind of situation we train for,” Johnson said. “This combined effort was definitely a success; one woman was rescued and the fire was prevented from spreading.”
Investigators said they are eager for Cornich to regain strength so they can interview her about the events leading up to the fire.