When Ned and Dee Pinhey, longtime residents of North Fork Drive, heard two loud explosions they suspected something was wrong. What happened next was a scene right out of one of Ned’s detective novels.
Ned Pinhey, a retired cop and lawyer, has published several police dramas based on his real-life experiences. What happened just after noon on Friday, March 21, was as bizarre as anything he’s ever penned, and there’s not a clue as to how the fire started.
“We heard those two loud pops and came immediately out of the house to see what had happened,” Ned recalled at the scene. “The garage was totally engulfed in flames and two vehicles parked outside were already burning.”
Ned said that’s when he jumped into his car and tried to back it out of harm’s way. But the car was already burned beyond driving it anywhere.
The heat of the blaze was so intense that the front end of Ned’s car was fused together; a melted mass of metal, rubber, and plastic.
Two other vehicles parked in front of the detached garage were burned beyond recognition. Captain Joe Rosa Jr. with Tulare County Fire Department estimated the damage to be in excess of $140,000.
For nearly an hour, while firefighters pumped water onto the fire’s perimeter, downed power lines popped and sparked next to the burning garage less than 100 feet from the Pinhey house.
Those live wires kept firefighters from dousing the blaze until SCE personnel arrived at the scene and turned off the electricity. The steep driveway at the property also made fighting the fire difficult because the water from the two tenders had to be pumped several hundred feet uphill.
Dee Pinhey said some of the wood and wire structure formerly used as an aviary were also damaged by the fire. Jackie Gardner, who was working at the house, lost her vehicle when it was consumed in the blaze.
Like so many older Three Rivers properties, there was no on-site water source. State law now mandates that new construction in rural areas have an on-site water source to help firefighters contain structure and wildland fires.
Ned speculated that a golf cart parked inside the garage might have been the ignition point where the blaze started. Captain Rosa said following his investigation no conclusive evidence was discovered and the official cause of the fire could not be determined.
Cal Fire personnel, including a hand crew from Miramonte, suppressed the one-half acre fire that burned uphill in the trees and brush above the Pinhey property. Tulare County personnel, utilizing three engines and two water tenders, kept the garage blaze from spreading to the nearby house.
There were no injuries reported. Though disaster was averted this time, the fire was another reminder that Three Rivers is a critical fire area and the tinder-dry vegetation presents an even greater danger.