Cause of Flume Street fire identified
The fire that destroyed three businesses and two apartments at 330 Flume Street July 5 was sparked by a bad connection in the original electrical system in the basement of the 90-year-old building.
The outdated system, known in the industry as “knob and tube,” uses porcelain insulators around which wires are looped and held together with electrical tape for connections and tubes to run the wires though joists and wall studs.
The fire, reported Rick Doane, fire prevention inspector for the Chico Fire Department, started in the southwest corner of the basement directly below the second-floor apartment. It then traveled through an interior wall, found a source of oxygen in a crack between the wall and a brick chimney and then made “a straight shot up to the attic.”
Doane described the architecture as “balloon-type” and that there were “no fire-stopping requirements back when the building was constructed.” He said the loose connection allowed heat to build up, possibly over a period of time, cooking the moisture out of the wood it was attached to until the heat and dryness sparked a flame.
Today, building codes require electrical connections to be housed in metal junction boxes. He estimated the fire had been burning for some time before it was discovered by a tenant in the third-floor apartment. Firefighters, he said, initially were “shocked at how well the fire had evolved by the time they had responded.”
“They went in with the understanding that it was only a room-and-content fire, and they couldn’t understand why there was such a developed fire in the attic above,” Doane said.
The fire left four tenants in two apartments homeless, and the three businesses were also displaced.
Eddy Hood, owner of the Loft Art School, reported losing an estimated $30,000 to $35,000. On the day of the fire, firefighters were able to salvage a number of canvases, and a few days after the fire Hood recovered a sculpture and a first-edition Mark Twain book, which he said took a half-hour to dig out of the rubble.
The other businesses are Paradise Lost Video and 330 Flume Hair Salon.
Tenant Stacey Mumm, who lived in the second-floor apartment, said she had left on the morning of the fire at 4 a.m. to travel to Iowa and visit family.
She said she didn’t learn of the blaze until July 7. The fire, she came to learn, started in a space in the basement directly beneath her bed. She said she’s lost almost everything in the apartment, including her cat, which reportedly escaped the fire but is still missing.
Doane said his office tries to get building owners to upgrade electrical systems through annual fire inspections.
“We concentrate on occupancies or businesses that carry fire code permits as required by the Chico Fire Department,” Doane said.
Such places, he said, include nightclubs and theaters where more than 50 people may gather, places that store hazardous materials or businesses such as repair shops. Apartments, he said, are inspected depending on the number of apartments in the building. There are no city records of permits ever being issued to build the two apartments in the Flume Street building, originally the home of Enloe Hospital.
Without any record of residential occupancy, Doane said, his office would not know to inspect the building.
Fire victims’ funds have been set up at Tri-Counties Bank in Chico. For the art school make donations to Eddy Hood Loft Art School Fire Victim’s Fund, Account No. 290015625. To help the former residents—Mick Atienza, Mandy McNay, Stacey Mumm or Leanna Stickney—contact Tri-Counties or call 893-8904 for more information.