City firefighters responded to smoke in a building on the 600 block of State Street in downtown Santa Barbara on Monday, and found that a portable air compressor had caught fire in the basement of the Velo Pro Cyclery Store.
The owner of Billabong Surf Shop at 631 State St. called at 9:19 a.m. to report seeing and smelling smoke, as his store’s alarms were going off.
The Santa Barbara Fire Department sent a full response of three engines, a truck and battalion chief, Engineer Hank Homburg said.
Equipped with thermal imaging cameras, fire crews entered the two-story building and found the source of the smoke in the basement. The portable air compressor has a motor on top that got overheated and caused the motor’s plastic shield to smolder, then catch on fire, Homburg said.
“Plastic like that, especially hard plastic, will really set off a lot of acrid smoke,” he said.
Crews cleared smoke out of the two businesses and second-floor offices for about an hour by using high-pressure fans, and had to close down State Street for an hour and a half. Fire investigators determined the faulty compressor was the cause of the smoke, and Homburg said it was lucky the fire hadn’t started in the middle of the night.
The compressor was plugged in and running, and investigators are checking on the incident to see how the compressor overheated.
Velo Pro Cyclery wasn’t open at the time of the fire, but owners helped fire crews get access to the basement, Homburg said. There was minimal smoke damage to the businesses and offices.
“We always try to blitz an attack as quickly as possible and find out what’s on fire with a real urgency,” especially with older building in the downtown area, he added.
The Fire Department also responded to a small blaze on Stearns Wharf Monday afternoon.
Homburg didn’t know the details, but said most fire calls on the wharf are caused by smokers discarding lit cigarettes, which get fanned into flames by the ocean breezes as they’re stuck between the planks. It’s a highly-populated area, so people catch it and call the Fire Department right away, he said.
City crews haven’t had any major wildfires locally during the heat wave, but the city has sent firefighters to help out other jurisdictions.
A Type-3, four-wheel-drive fire engine manned with four people was sent to help with the Mojave Desert’s Jawbone Complex Fire in eastern Kern County. Santa Barbara firefighters have been there since Saturday, and the department has been getting requests from all over the state for help with wildfires, Homburg said.
Santa Barbara gets compensated for helping out in other jurisdictions with its equipment and personnel.