Woman’s quick thinking saved SLO building from going ‘up in flames.’ And it’s all on video

A dramatic scene Sunday in San Luis Obispo was captured on surveillance video as it unfolded, showing a man appearing to ignite a dumpster fire that was noticed and extinguished by a fast-thinking neighbor.

The fire took place about 12:30 p.m. at the corner of Pacific and Carmel streets, where multiple businesses are housed in a commercial complex, according to the SLO Police Department.

A 35-year-old man, Denardo Andre James, was arrested on suspicion of felony arson in connection with the incident at 1321 Carmel St., according to San Luis Obispo police Lt. Fred Mickel.

Erin McClellan-Momburg, the good Samaritan, responded quickly by dousing the flames with a fire extinguisher.

“I think being right there helped save the building,” McClellan-Momburg said. “If it wasn’t for that fire extinguisher on site, that building would have gone up in flames.”

Erin McClellan-Momburg, a neighbor, responded to the fire by spraying it with a fire extinguisher. Courtesy photo

McClellan-Momburg, owner of SLO-based Sprigs Floral Designs, was talking to a neighbor, she told The Tribune, when she smelled smoke, initially thinking it was from a nearby barbecue.

That’s when a man in a Toyota Tacoma truck, driving by, stopped and alerted them to the blaze. McClellan-Momburg quickly reacted by grabbing a fire extinguisher in her housing complex and extinguishing the fire.

McClellan-Momburg said fire officials, who responded shortly thereafter, told her the building was on the verge of total destruction within a couple of minutes if it hadn’t been for her quick response.

Dramatic footage captures alleged crime and response

The video, captured on surveillance by the owners of Spinshot, Inc., a business housed in the complex, reveals the suspect walking along the sidewalk on Carmel and then jiggling one of the locked doors of the building.

Then the footage shows him strolling ahead and appearing to look both ways before possibly placing something in the outside dumpster, though the view of his hand is blocked by the angle of the shot, said Michael Allen, CEO and co-founder of Spinshot, a 360-view product photography technology company for e-commerce.

Allen produced an edited surveillance video that slows down the man’s actions and the neighbor’s response about seven minutes later.

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Denardo James, 35, was arrested on suspicion of arson. SLO County Sheriff's Department booking mug

Minutes after, the man stands near the dumpster as flames appear shooting up the side of the wooden building.

“Erin saved the building, and it’s a huge thing to us,” Allen said. “It has been a personal dream to start a small company and build it in to a big building. It’s very possible the building would have gone up in flames if she hadn’t arrived when she did.”

Small business saved by neighbor’s actions

Allen said he started his company out of his mother’s garage, and has been working out of a smaller space in the building with his SLO-based partner, Jeremy Fissell, and another partner out of Berlin, Germany, Jasper Michalczik.

They were planning to expand into a bigger space in the building where the fire occurred.

Smoke damage to the facade of the building. Nick Wilson

But now they’re dealing with insurance to cover an estimated $50,000 in damage to the facade and some interior smoke damage as well, Allen said.

“That she acted when she did and they got a suspect, we couldn’t have asked for more,” Allen said.

In addition to felony arson, James is also facing additional charges of committing a felony while on bail, violating probation and resisting an officer, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.