Discarded cigarette butts helped start a west Santa Rosa apartment complex fire early Tuesday, damaging several units and displacing dozens of people.
The fire caused an estimated $200,000 in damage, said Scott Moon, Santa Rosa fire marshal.
The butts had been discarded earlier in the night. Two men renting the Marlow Road apartment had been smoking on the deck, said Moon. They put the butts into a plastic container stored on the deck of their second-story residence. During the night the remnants heated up the container, which caught fire.
Gasoline from a motor scooter and a 1-gallon container of gas — both stored on the small deck — likely added fuel to the fire, Moon said.
Some residents reported hearing repeated "boom" noises, which firefighters said most likely came from the exploding gas can, fuel tank and some aerosol cans. Blaring smoke detectors awakened several residents, who all gathered outside to watch firefighters.
"Everybody just stood in awe," said Joel Cervantes, who lives at the complex.
The two-story building holds 16 apartments at the Marlow Road Apartments complex near Piner Road.
The fire caused only minor damage to several apartments. But, due to smoke or water, about 58 adults and children needed a place to go, at least for the rest of the morning.
On Tuesday afternoon, some residents were allowed to retrieve items from their homes.
Manager Jessica Canfield said efforts were being made to relocate several of the displaced families to other apartment complexes in Santa Rosa.
"We're working on recovery, finding everyone somewhere to live for now," Canfield said.
Residents who didn't have an alternative were provided temporary shelter by Red Cross volunteers.
Some residents learned their building was on fire just after 1 a.m. when smoke set off some detectors. Residents began calling 911 at 1:04 a.m.
The residents of the apartment on fire initially tried to put out the flames themselves. One man suffered apparent minor burns to one hand when he tried to close a sliding glass door to the burning deck, said Moon.
The first Santa Rosa engine arrived from the Coffey Lane station, just blocks away, at 1:09 a.m., according to Sonoma County dispatch records.
Firefighters found the deck on fire with flames spreading inside the residence and up toward the roof. Flames also were spreading to a patio below, threatening a second apartment.
Battalion Chief Jack Piccinini called for a second alarm at 1:12 a.m., bringing a total of 30 firefighters from throughout Santa Rosa to the effort.
The fire got into a common attic and began moving across the large building, said Piccinini. Firefighters went into adjoining apartments and cut holes in ceilings and from the roof, stopping the fire.
The fire was under control at 1:45 a.m., according to dispatch records.
It mainly damaged the original apartment. Virtually everything in the residence was a loss, said Moon.
There was minor fire, water and smoke damage to a few other apartments.