Space heater fire does $200,000 damage

A house fire sparked by a space heater Thursday night caused about $200,000 in damage, but no one was injured, fire crews said Friday.

Shortly after 10 p.m., crews responded to 911 calls from neighbors reporting a house was on fire and the flames were threatening an adjacent apartment building at 733 San Pablo Ave., Pinole Battalion Chief Brian Lowry said.

The 59-year-old man who lived in the house told fire crews he was having problems with an electric space heater in the home's front room. When he went out the front door to look for his dog, a security door locked behind him and he could not get back inside. The man said he then heard crackling sounds inside his home.

Peering through the door, the man told fire crews he saw the space heater start a fire that quickly spread to the sofa.

When firefighters arrived, heavy smoke and flames were coming from the front of the home, with the porch and front rooms burning and threatening an adjacent apartment building. A total of 19 firefighters worked the fire and had it under control in roughly 30 minutes.

-- Kristin J. Bender, Staff


Spare the Air alert: Wood fires banned

Wood fires will be banned in the Bay Area on Saturday during the first of what could be several consecutive days of Spare the Air alerts for poor air quality.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District said it called the health advisory because stagnant air is expected to trap smoke and other pollutants near the ground.

During alerts, the district bans wood and other solid fuel fires in fireplaces, fire inserts, stoves or outdoor fire pits.

This is the 28th alert of the burn season, which lasts from November through February. Weather conditions are ripe for alerts to be called for Sunday and Monday as well, pollution forecasters said.

The district regulates air pollution in seven Bay Area counties and southern parts of Solano and Sonoma counties.

-- Denis Cuff, Staff


Church gym plans on after appeal rejected

Rejecting an appeal by neighbors, the county planning commission has let stand plans for a controversial recreation center to be built at San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church in Alamo.

The appeal asked the commission to overturn the county zoning administrator's approval of the project, but commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to uphold the original decision.

Church officials say the gym is intended as "a gift" to the community, and that the idea for it came from an anonymous donor. They plan to charge small fees to nonchurch members who want to use the gym, but say it will be open to the public.

But many neighbors of the Danville Boulevard church oppose the project. Residents of 28 of the 29 adjacent properties have publicly opposed the gym's construction, according to a county staff report. Among neighbors' concerns are fears that the gym will increase noise and light pollution in the area, and lead to more traffic congestion along Danville Boulevard.

In response, the church has agreed to measures designed to reduce gym and nighttime light pollution.

Project opponents have until 4 p.m. Friday to file an appeal with the county board of supervisors.

-- Nate Gartrell, Correspondent


Brush fire contained near school campus

Fire crews contained a small vegetation fire Friday afternoon near Walnut Heights Elementary School.

Firefighters were called to the blaze around 3:10 p.m., according to a Contra Costa Fire dispatcher. CalFire crews were also alerted, but were called off once local units arrived and determined that they could contain the blaze themselves.

The elementary school was not evacuated, and school had already been dismissed for the weekend when the fire was reported.

The fire was contained at 3:52 p.m. Officials have not yet determined its cause.

Fire crews throughout the region are on high alert as record low levels of rainfall have created dry conditions that provoked a statewide drought declaration from Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday.

-- Katie Nelson, Staff


Liquor store loses license after violation

A Pleasanton liquor store has been shut down for at least a month after it was cited for selling alcohol to an underage customer for the third time in three years, authorities said.

John Carr, spokesman for the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said in a statement that Perry's Liquors, located at 4301 Valley Ave., was notified of the closure Thursday.

The store has been caught selling alcohol to underage customers twice before in the last three years, and its current violation is its fifth in the last eight years, Carr said.

During the most recent violation, department agents saw a store clerk sell alcoholic beverages to an 18-year-old woman who then walked outside and showed the bottle of alcohol to a 15-year-old who had been waiting near the door.

Both the store clerk and teen were issued misdemeanor citations.

The department has requested that the store's license be revoked, according to Carr. However, the revocation will be delayed a year to allow the current licensee to transfer its alcohol license to a new owner.

-- Katie Nelson, Staff


Police catch car thief suspect after chase

A man was arrested Friday morning after leading police on a chase along Interstate 80 before crashing, authorities said.

Richmond police pulled up behind a man driving a white Honda Civic around 10:30 a.m. in the Hilltop Green area, according to Richmond Lt. Andre Hill. Officers scanned the car's license plate and learned the vehicle had been stolen, Hill said.

When officers tried to pull the man over, he fled westbound on I-80 before crashing near the Carlson Boulevard exit.

No one was injured.

The man, who has not been identified by police, was arrested on suspicion of theft and evasion.

-- Katie Nelson, Staff


Six people homeless after suspicious fire

A suspicious fire that started in an apartment building carport destroyed two units and left six people homeless, a fire official said Friday.

No one was injured.

Crews responded to a report of a car fire in a carport in the 25000 block of Cypress Avenue around 3:45 a.m., Hayward fire spokesman Don Nichelson said. Crews controlled the fire in about 15 minutes.

Both units were destroyed and adjacent units suffered minor smoke damage.

Five adults and one child got out of the apartments on their own before crews arrived and were assisted by the American Red Cross, Nichelson said.

Although the fire remains under investigation, Nichelson said it appears to be suspicious as a homeless person may have been living in the carport. A damage estimate was not available Friday.

-- Kristin J. Bender, Staff


Victim of Wednesday kitchen fire identified

A Newark man who died following a kitchen fire this week has been identified as 93-year-old Perkin Britton, the Alameda County Coroner's office reported Friday.

Firefighters on Wednesday evening quickly put out the blaze in the one-story home in the 36500 block of Darvon Street, said Alameda County Fire Department spokeswoman Aisha Knowles.

Britton, the only resident there, was taken to a hospital, where he later died, Knowles said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but Knowles said it started in the kitchen and was apparently accidental.

-- Kristin J. Bender, Staff