Huntington Beach Fire Capt. Jim Kettler stood at a fifth-floor City Hall window Tuesday morning watching a column of smoke drift skyward.
He had a pretty good idea from the rough location--Springdale Street, south of Edinger Avenue--that the burning building was the same sturdy old ranch house where his family had lived from the 1920s until 1953, when his mother sold the property.
"I was born when my family lived there," Kettler said later. "I lived there 21 years."
As it turned out Tuesday, Kettler's colleagues in the Fire Department were able to knock down the flames in about 15 minutes, restricting damage primarily to an attached water tower, where the Kettler family once stored well water for domestic use.
But it was only a reprieve for the old house--an aging landmark engulfed by modern suburbia. Fire Department officials said the new owner is selling the property, which will be cleared to make room for apartments.
For that reason, and because the structure has been vacant for over a year, no official damage estimate was placed on the fire, a spokesman said.
Last year when the property's owner suggested that the Fire Department burn down the old house for training purposes, Kettler, the department's training officer, turned down the offer.
"It was too close to the street and next to a restaurant," he said. But Kettler confessed that he also didn't like the idea because he has "too much sentimental value" attached to the home.
Fire Capt. Chuck Burney said Tuesday's fire probably was started by juveniles "on the outside of the structure in an area where quite a bit of trash had accumulated."
The Kettler family, including the households of two of Jim Kettler's uncles, were pioneers in Huntington Beach. Kettler's brother, Bill, a former Huntington Beach Elementary School District trustee, has a school named after him in town and their mother, Margaret, still lives in Huntington Beach.
But as for his old home, Kettler conceded Tuesday, "its days are numbered."