Village home destroyed by explosion

A house exploded in the north end of the Village Monday afternoon, sending flames and smoke billowing into the Claremont sky.

Police received multiple calls from nearby residents just before 3 p.m. on the 200 block of 12th Street, according to Lt. Karlan Bennett of the Claremont Police Department. When police arrived within minutes, they found the house fully engulfed in flames and neighbors trying to fight the fire with garden hoses.

The cause had not been determined as of Thursday morning. Inspector David Michael of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said it could take anywhere from “a couple of days to a couple of weeks” to determine a cause.

Lisa Pritchard was walking her dog in the area when she heard the blast.

“I just thought the world came to an end,” she said, noting she saw a woman running down the street saying there was an explosion. “I just thought we were in a nuclear war.”

Ron Podojil has lived in the house for around 11 years.

“I’m feeling kind of numb, simply because you don’t know what to do next,” he said on Monday as he surveyed the remnants of his home.

Mr. Podojil said he got a call on his cell phone from a neighbor saying his house was on fire and raced to the scene from his job in San Dimas. He has no idea what caused the blaze, but said it may have started in the back of the house. 

“Obviously, it looks gas-related is what I’m assuming, but you just don’t know,” he said. “What else could it be? There’s nothing else in the house, there’s no propane, I just don’t have any of that. Everything is gas or electric.”

Nobody was home in the front house at the time of the explosion, Lt. Bennett said. But Allison Dollman was staying in a back house on the property, which was being rented out as an AirBnb, when the explosion occurred.

Ms. Dollman was visiting Claremont from Toledo, Ohio to tour the Claremont Colleges with her son Nicholas. She said the front house, “imploded on itself,” and called the police. She scaled the back fence into an adjacent property to escape the flames.

“The flames were getting higher and higher and I thought I really had no choice,” Ms. Dollman said.

Twelfth Street was blocked off between Harvard and Yale, and onlookers were shepherded from the scene by Claremont police officers as a precaution. Pieces of debris and broken glass littered 12th street and adjacent properties.

Liz Solis was at her son’s apartment on 12th street when she felt the explosion, which shook the entire dwelling.

“Neighbors ran to the house before the fire got bad, it started in the back and the neighbors ran in asking, ‘Is anybody in here?’” Ms. Solis said. “After a few minutes they came out and the fire grew. Before the firefighters got here they were spraying it with garden hoses.”

Adjacent properties were also affected by the blast. Baba Elefante, who lives in a back house facing the property, said the explosion shattered his windows.

“I was sitting doing work and it sounded like a bomb going off,” he said.

Sacha Lord and her family lived in the Spanish-style home from 1989 to 2008. She said the home, built in 1924, played host to many neighborhood parties underneath the arch that adorned the driveway, including celebrations for her son before he went overseas and for her husband, who ran for school board in the 1990s.

Her parents lived in the back house for 15 years, which created a little family compound, she said.

“There’s something about a childhood home, and my children were just sad about that because you have an attachment to the place and memories connected to the place,” she said. “To have that so violently destroyed, it’s an odd experience.”

She said she went back to the house and connected with Mr. Podojil and the neighbors to make sure they were okay.

“It felt really good to go back and sort of reconnect,” she said. “It felt like, I don’t know, like people gathering at a funeral.”

Mr. Podojil lives in the home with another person who is currently in Europe. His cat, Lulu, was missing in the days following the fire, but was found under the back deck of the home on Wednesday. He spent Monday evening talking with fire investigators and sifting through the rubble.

“You look at it and think ‘Wow, somebody really could have gotten hurt.’ Nobody did, and that’s a blessing,” he said. “We’ll see now what happens and what they come up with, because it’s just very odd to me. It seems like this only happens to other people.”

—Matthew Bramlett


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