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Fire burns Theta Chi house in San Luis Obispo

Fire heavily damaged the fraternity house at the corner of Upham and Chorro Streets in San Luis Obispo.
Fire heavily damaged the fraternity house at the corner of Upham and Chorro Streets in San Luis Obispo. The Tribune

Wood-finishing products used on the surface of a newly built bar fueled a fire that damaged a San Luis Obispo fraternity house Friday.

Passers-by reported flames on the porch of the Theta Chi house at Upham and Chorro streets about 12:45 p.m. Fraternity member Clint Hebrew said he and another member were in the house at the time. Both escaped unharmed.

The fire started on the front porch and was contained to the attic, firefighters at the scene said.

Anika Dunkell, 24, of San Luis Obispo said it appeared as though a large barbecue was left unattended on the porch.

“Just flames everywhere,” said Dunkell, who was walking on Upham in front of the house when she saw the flames. Soon after, a can of paint thinner left outside exploded, she said.

The fire then spread, outside, to the home’s second floor, she added. That’s when the smoke detectors went off.

Hebrew said he was in the kitchen downstairs when he noticed the fire. He got out through the front door next to the area on fire, he added. The other fraternity member who was at home had left the house.

Fire investigators said Friday that products used to finish the surface of a bar the fraternity members had recently built had been improperly disposed of and sparked the fire.

Mark Bright, 53, a Theta Chi alumnus who is in town on business, said that 600 men have lived in the house since it was acquired by the fraternity.

The house is insured, he added.

As of 1:30 p.m., fire crews were inside the house to confirm no one else was inside. A fire investigator estimated the damage at $60,000 to the structure and $40,000 for contents.

The fraternity house is known for hosting an annual haunted house for Halloween.

Tribune staff writer Amy Dempsey contributed to this story.

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