Alamo fire destroys hillside home | March 27, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - March 27, 2009

Alamo fire destroys hillside home

Smoke alarm wakes up residents who escape with family dog

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District responded to a fire at a three-story home at 1640 Cervato Circle in Alamo shortly after 3:29 a.m. Sunday morning. It was the residence of Karen Schierholtz, her fiancé Chris Womick and Sophia Schierholtz, a student at San Ramon Valley High School, and friends are rallying to replace lost photographs and provide basics for the family.

"It got smoky really fast. We basically left with the clothes on our backs," Karen Schierholtz said Tuesday.

She said they are planning to rebuild their residence.

"We will rent close by and try to get it back as much as we can to what it was before," Schierholtz said.

A smoke alarm in the residence alerted the residents and they evacuated the house safely with the family dog, according to fire reports.

Three engines, two trucks and one paramedic unit responded to the call, and when they arrived, the 2,600-square-foot house was fully engulfed in flames.

"When we got on the scene it was completely involved, with flames coming out of every window," said Battalion Chief Mike Brown.

Firefighters took a defensive approach due to the possibility of a structure collapse, which did happen. The fire was contained at 4:55 a.m. Crews continued with extinguishment, salvage and overhaul throughout most of Sunday.

A neighbor reported that firefighters were able to salvage a couple of boxes of items, including a box with the children's senior photos from high school in perfect condition.

"We were lucky that we had an attack on one corner of the house that kept it to a certain extent complete for us to get some stuff out of it before we allowed it to burn," explained Brown. "It was unsafe standing that way so we allowed the rest of it to be consumed."

Neighbors were walking on Cervato Circle to check out the damages late Monday morning.

"My son woke me up at 3:30," recalled Fran Routh, who lives three doors down. "I looked out the bedroom window and it was all engulfed in flames."

"We were lucky it happened in mid-March in the middle of a rainstorm," said Brown. "It was a 'wildland urban interface' on a steep slope with lots of houses right above it. If it had been between June and October it would have been a difficult issue - it would have got in the grass and run right up to those houses."

Structure damage is estimated at $1.1 million; with contents estimated at $500,000, including two cars.

"We're investigating the cause," said Chief Brown on Monday. "This is one that we may never know because of the extent of the damage. We will endeavor to keep trying to find the cause through interviews and how we investigate but to pinpoint a cause will be difficult."

The point of origin was determined to be on the second level of the multi-story single family home. On Tuesday, Fire Investigator Natalie Kurtz reported the cause as accidental and undetermined.

"Everything in a house is replaceable, except the occupants," said Fire Marshal Christina Jamison. "Smoke detectors save lives. Always make sure you have working smoke detectors in your home by testing them monthly."

Friends are networking to replace photographs that the family may have lost as well as helping to supply them with basics lost in the fire. They are also collecting San Ramon Valley High yearbooks from 2002-2008. To learn more, contact school office manager Roxann Stone at 552-3013 or e-mail

Karen Schierholtz said she appreciated the help from the community but remarked that the families of the recently slain police officers needed community support even more.


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