Firefighters unable to save house due to copper thieves
HESPERIA — Firefighters were unable to douse an early morning blaze in time because copper fittings worth a mere $8 had been stolen from all five fire hydrants on the block.
As a result, Jerry Malberg lost his mother’s house near Rock Springs Road.
Hesperia Councilwoman Rita Vogler said authorities will look for those responsible at metal recycling spots and encouraged residents to report fire hydrants with missing tops to the fire department.
“This is a trend that has to do with the rising prices of metals and it’s bigger than San Bernardino County, which is why we need to be on the look out,” she said.
The house was empty at the time, but Malberg’s neighbors, Tony and Kim Gallegos, thought otherwise.
Tony Gallegos attempted to put out the fire with a garden hose while waiting for firefighters to arrive. Other neighbors were honking horns trying to wake up the occupants, said Gallegos.
“We watch out for our neighbors’ property all the time,” said Kim Gallegos. “We never thought we’d have to watch out for the hydrants.”
Firefighter Bill Vallarino said after he noticed the copper tops had been taken, it took an additional 20 minutes for water tenders to arrive and get continuous water pressure on the house.
Despite the efforts of 17 firefighters who contained the fire by 6:55 a.m., an estimated $175,000 in damage was done.
The fire is being called an accident at this time, resulting from a lit stove back burner officials said.
Malberg received a phone call in Ontario shortly after the fire and returned to salvage charred heirlooms.
“This is a great neighborhood, and I’m devastated about my mother’s house,” said Malberg. “But things happen. What can you do?”
Vogler said the fire could have spread if it had started on a hot, windy afternoon.
“The fire was in a large area and it’s a good thing firefighters found another hydrant piece in time,” Vogler said. “This is outright vandalism.”
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If caught the said thieves should be burned at the stake.