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Orange County Digest

Huntington Beach : Downtown Fire Believed Caused by Transient

December 24, 1985|Mark I. Pinsky \f7

City fire officials believe that a blaze that destroyed a two-story brick building near Huntington Beach Pier last Thursday was caused by a transient living in a shed behind the structure.

"Yes, we do have a suspect," Fire Chief Ray Picard said. "Yes, we have approached the district attorney."

Picard declined to say whether officials had positively identified the individual, who is not in custody. Whether the transient will be arrested, the chief said, "depends on how the district attorney looks at the case, and if he considers it to be a chargeable offense."

The origin of the fire "came from one of two sources in the shed," Picard said, "and spread to the interior of the building," located at 112-114 Main St.

Seven people were injured, including Thomas Townsend, 46, a fire engineer, who entered the burning building to shut off the gas and other utilities. A brick wall collapsed on him, crushing three of the vertebrae in his lower back and breaking other bones.

"What we think happened," Picard said, "is that falling bricks landed not only on his helmet and shoulder, but that bricks also fell onto his breathing apparatus," crushing the mechanism into Townsend's back.

The 18-year veteran regained consciousness Sunday for the first time since the injury. Picard said he visited Townsend Monday at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and that the firefighter now "has mobility in his extremities" and can speak, although he has some difficulty remembering things. Doctors may fuse the three crushed vertebrae within the next week, Picard said.

"The key point is the extraordinary physical condition he was in," Picard said. "Even though he is 46, he ate the right foods and did the right exercises and was in the right physical condition. . . . He still looks tough, and that really gives us a lot of high hopes."

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