The Contra Costa County coroner released information today that Benjamin Litman, the 19-year-old who died in a Blackhawk house fire earlier this week, died from asphyxia due to smoke inhalation. The fire also seriously injured the man's father, Robert Litman, who was reportedly in critical condition at Santa Clara County Medical Center as of Thursday morning.
According to a statement released by the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District Thursday morning, the fire grew undetected until structural debris fell through the second floor ceilings.
"When the smoke detector activated on the interior of the home, the fire was already at a free burning advanced stage, giving the occupants little opportunity to react," the report states.
The specific cause of the fire is still unknown.
Fire and emergency crews found Benjamin Litman dead in the home located in the 2900 block of Meadow Drive after responding to the fire around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Fire Chief Richard Price said that the call came in as a fire alarm activation, not a structure fire, through a supervised detection system. When crews arrived, they realized it was in fact a structure fire, he said, and called for additional resources.
"It was pretty unique," Price said. "There was no report or second report of smoke. So it's a fire alarm sounding, if it was activated, and they weren't able to get out of the house. You'd think that when the fire alarm went off, there would have been a local alarm that would have given people time to get out."
Crews also found Robert Litman in the large two-story home. He was unconscious and treated on the scene before being flown to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.
Price said the father was transported to the San Jose medical center with serious injuries but is expected to survive. The man wasn't physically burned, he added, but had inhalation injuries that the burn center was specially equipped to treat.
The mother wasn't home at the time of the fire, but she reportedly helped crews locate the two men inside.
Six investigators -- including some from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) -- examined the scene to find the cause of the fire. Price said there is a lot of debris, so they are documented everything, layer by layer.
SRVFPD estimated the damage to be $1,500,000 and $500,000 in content loss.
They also remind residents to have working smoke detectors on every level of their home, outside all sleeping areas and in all bedrooms. In addition, the detectors should be checked once a month and batteries changed twice a year.