SAN JOSE -- Fast-moving flames bolstered by a leaking gas line reduced an Eichler house to char Monday afternoon and damaged neighboring homes near Westgate Mall before being brought under control, according to fire officials.
The fire broke out around 3 p.m. on Mossbrook Circle and quickly went to three alarms as flames began to lick at the homes on either side. While one suffered only exterior damage, the other had a fire in the eaves and attic and firefighters were able to save about half the structure, according to San Jose fire Capt. Cleo Doss.
The home that initially caught fire was a total loss.
"It was completely engulfed, and fell in on itself," he said.
A gas leak also hampered efforts to completely quell the flames because firefighters needed to wait for Pacific Gas and Electric to arrive and stop the leak, Doss said.
"If we cut the fire out and the pipe starts to spill gas in the area, there is a possibility of explosion," he said. "If it's burning off, we're happy. As soon as (the fire) goes out it will start forming pockets of gas."
PG&E spokesman Greg Snapper said the home's gas line was compromised by the flames, and was not the cause of the conflagration.
"The heat from the fire damaged some of our equipment and caused the gas leak," he said. "It's common for a fire to completely devastate all the equipment related to a home's utilities."
About a dozen residents along the street were evacuated to nearby Moreland Middle School, including Judy Allen, who lives two houses down from the demolished home.
"I heard popping sounds, and didn't know what it was until someone started banging on my door and yelling 'Get out! Get out! There's a fire!' " Allen said.
Neighbors said the residents of the home include the original owner of the Eichler, built in the early 1960s. The residents were home when the blaze broke out, but everyone was able to get out without injury.
Doss said the Eichler design -- built to have a spacious, "outside in" aesthetic -- allows for rapid airflow, and neighbors said they are well aware of their homes' propensity to burn fast.
"That's why they call them 'seven-minute Eichlers,' " said Laura Murphy, who moved into the neighborhood in 2009.
Mike Lovejoy, a 30-year resident, said a couple other homes in the neighborhood have burned down over the years. He agreed that the homes "go quick."
"There's the atrium, and that creates a draft effect that sucks the air up and through," he said. "And the inside walls are made of oiled mahogany."
The fire churned out clouds of acrid smoke that could be seen and smelled at distance.
"There's a lot of nasty stuff inside a house that can burn," Doss said. "A lot of carcinogens. We're not dealing with natural stuff like in years ago. There are plastics and chemicals that have byproducts."
The cause remains under investigation, Doss said.
Earlier on Monday, one person was killed in a fire at a mobile home on near Senter and Tully roads. That blaze is being jointly investigated by police and fire officials.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.