OAKLAND -- Eighteen people were displaced from their Melrose district homes early Wednesday after a two-alarm fire destroyed two houses, an Oakland fire official said.

All 18 residents, including eight children, safely escaped the blaze, Battalion Chief Lisa Baker said.

The fire in the 4600 block of Melrose Avenue, not far from Fremont High School, started around 3:40 a.m. A secondary power line collapsed because of the fire and sparked for a time, requiring a response from Pacific Gas & Electric that briefly cut power to 1,500 customers, company spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said.

Flames had already engulfed one of the homes and spread to another on its left by the time crews arrived, Baker said. The residents of both structures were outside when crews arrived. Most of their possessions were destroyed.

The downed line kept firefighters from attacking the blaze aggressively, Baker said. The area was roped off, and crews fought the fire from the outside at a distance until the power was cut.

PG&E cut power to the line at around 4 a.m., Sarkissian said, and 1,500 customers lost power for about 13 minutes. An additional 12 residents in the neighborhood went without power until just after 8:30 a.m.

Crews did not declare the fires under control until just before 6 a.m. No firefighters were injured.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, but it may have started in the kitchen of one house, officials said. Baker estimated damage to the two homes to be at least $450,000. A structural engineer was called to determine if the homes could be occupied again.


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The Red Cross was helping the displaced residents find housing, Baker said.

Staff writer Harry Harris contributed to this report. Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789. Follow him at Twitter.com/3rderh.