A smoke alarm is credited with saving a Santa Rosa apartment from complete destruction and sparing surrounding units when a fire broke out in the absence of the apartment's occupant Thursday night.

The 10:30 p.m. blaze badly damaged the kitchen in the Willow Tree Apartments unit on McBride Lane, Santa Rosa Fire Battalion Chief Mike Jones said.

But firefighters doused the flames in about 15 minutes and prevented the fire from spreading elsewhere in the two-story building north of West Steele Lane, he said.

The resident had been out for about an hour when the fire started, Jones said. But the apartment manager was alerted by the smoke alarm and called the fire department.

She then went out to investigate and saw smoke coming from a second-story unit just as the first engine on the scene was observing the same, Jones said.

He said the fire appeared to have started in the electrical workings behind the refrigerator.

There was resulting smoke damage throughout the unit, and the kitchen was badly burned, with total damage estimated around $50,000, Jones said.