Fast-acting men rescue woman trapped by fire in Paso Robles

clambert@thetribunenews.comOctober 22, 2012 

A fire was reported Monday morning at the former Jerry Reneau car dealership at Spring Street and 23rd Street in Paso Robles.

TONYA STRICKLAND — tstrickland@thetribunenews.com

UPDATE 10:30 a.m. Tuesday: Paso Robles fire officials have determined that an overloaded exterior electrical outlet was the cause of a fire that broke out Monday morning at a former car dealership.

The outlet was located in a concealed space between two buildings, according to a news release. It had multiple electrical appliances plugged into it, which overloaded the circuit and caused the fire.

A total damage estimate is still being determined.

Original story: A woman who was trapped by a small fire in a concealed space at the former Jerry Reneau car dealership in Paso Robles was pulled to safety Monday by men working nearby, Paso Robles Fire officials said.

Officials said transients appeared to have been staying inside the space, which was between two buildings at the dealership at 2235 Spring St.

Paso Robles city and Cal Fire engines responded at 9:35 a.m.

Firefighters put the flames out 10 minutes after arriving and before the blaze extended into commercial buildings, according to a news release.

Mika Choate and his boss, Jeremy Santoro of Paso Robles-based Santoro Excavating, were working behind the former dealership to expose old gas and water lines Monday morning when a third person came outside to talk to them and saw smoke and flames.

Choate, 30, ran into the building to alert those inside, he said. That’s when he heard a woman screaming.

At first, he couldn’t find her, but then he realized she was stuck in a breezeway that connected two buildings. As the woman pounded on the metal siding from inside the breezeway, Choate searched for a way to get her out.

He found a joint and peeled the siding back, but the space was too small for the woman to fit.

Choate told her to keep her head close to the opening and ran to get some tools.

In the meantime, about four other men helped pull the woman out.

“She was just very lucky,” Choate said. “If we didn’t come to work this morning and weren’t out in this back alley, there would have been nobody back there, and that place would have gone (up) in flames.”

Choate said the woman and her boyfriend had been sleeping in the breezeway over the weekend.

They had a mattress in the area, as well as a lamp, which he thought may have caused the fire.

The woman was evaluated at the scene by paramedics and determined to be uninjured. She was not identified.

Fire officials said the cause of the fire and total damage estimate are still being determined.

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