SANTA CLARA (Bay Area News Group) — A four-alarm fire consumed a 56-unit luxury condominium complex under construction in Santa Clara on Friday, sending workers running for their lives and throwing a thick plume of smoke into the sky that could be seen for miles.
At least one “person of interest” was detained near the scene about 12:30 p.m. and later released without any charges, according to Santa Clara police Capt. Wahid Kazem.
“Our investigators are currently working to make a determination if this person is involved in this incident or not,” Kazem said.
The blaze ignited at the Anantara Villas, 1850 El Camino Real, just after 11 a.m. and was contained by 1:30 p.m., said Santa Clara fire Chief Bill Kelly. Firefighters, however, expected to spend the remainder of the day extinguishing hot spots throughout the structure.
“We’re really concerned about collapse hazards with all the scaffolding that the construction workers used here,” Kelly said. “Also, the damaged walls may come down.”
One worker injured his leg when he jumped from scaffolding to escape the roaring flames. Kelly did not have an update on his condition, but he said the injury was not life-threatening.
There were no immediate reports of other injuries.
In a statement, Anantara Villas developer Legend USA said the worker sprained his ankle. The developer also thanked firefighters for their quick response and promised to “work with local authorities and related companies to conduct a thorough review of what happened and how to effectively prevent any such instances from happening in the future.”
Chris Reynolds, an electrician, was working on the building and getting ready to go to lunch when the fire started.
“It happened so fast,” Reynolds said. “I saw people running down the stairs. … You could feel the heat.”
Several homes downwind of the conflagration on Clay Street were evacuated as a precaution. Kelly said firefighters were concerned they would catch fire from the radiant heat.
A block away, Amavely Alvarez, 39, saw the blaze break out.
“I was washing the dishes and I looked out and it was literally in flames,” Alvarez said. “I’m babysitting my nephews and I freaked out.”
Her 13-year-old son, Victor, stepped outside to survey the scene.
“I looked out and saw big flames,” he said. “You could feel the burn.”
Nearby, residents in the Old Quad neighborhood, full of historic Victorian homes, used garden hoses to wet their roofs.
“To see it go up in smoke like that is really heartbreaking,” said Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor. She thanked firefighters for protecting surrounding buildings so quickly.
Kelly said firefighters were helped by calm conditions, which allowed the heat to travel upward. He noted that the four-story building was in the framing stages and particularly vulnerable to fire.
“All of that lumber stacked on top of each other with open air really allows for fire to spread quickly,” Kelly said.
The building might not be a total loss. Kelly said he believes firefighters managed to save some crucial elements of the project, including the foundation and the first-floor platform.
“We’ll have to see once all the smoke clears exactly what is damaged, what was saved and what can be put back together,” he said.
The cause and origin of the blaze remain under investigation, said Fire Marshall Jake Tomlin.
“We’re exploring a couple of leads,” he said. “Nothing definitive yet.”
El Camino Real between Lincoln Street and Scott Boulevard will remain closed overnight, according to the fire department.
For some South Bay residents, the conflagration brought back memories of a six-acre fire at Santana Row in August 2002. The upscale shopping center was still under construction when it erupted into flames, causing more than $100 million in damage.
Anyone with information about the fire can contact Santa Clara police Detective James Wright at 408-615-4829.
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