More than a dozen fire engines raced up Palisades Drive to the Highlands on Thursday night to put out a fire in a row of townhouses on Michael Lane. The fire started in the garage at 1684 Michael Lane, where the owner had parked his car that was smoking. When the man went inside to call for help, the car caught fire. The garage was filled with stacks of combustibles on the floor and against the walls, leaving only room for the car, and when it caught fire, the stacks rapidly went up into flames, too, according to Fire Station 23 Captain James Varney. Fire Station 23 (located at Sunset Boulevard and Los Liones Drive) responded to an 8:20 p.m. call and had to contend with a ‘hot, messy, dirty fire,’ said Captain Varney. The townhouses share a common attic and the fire spread into the attic and the walls of the adjoining units. ‘The men had to break the roof tiles in order to cut the ceiling to get to the fire,’ Varney said. ‘It was a major emergency because it was difficult to fight.’ The warm, windy weather, coupled with the townhouses’ close proximity to the hillside brush, all added to the possible dire consequences that faced firefighters In addition to Station 23, Stations 69, 19, 59 63, 37 and companies from downtown responded to the alarm. Station 23 was on site until after midnight and several other fire crews were there until 2 and 3 a.m. ‘It was an expensive firefighting operation,’ Varney said. ‘Crews had to chainsaw walls and the ceiling to get to the seat of the fire.’ The three townhouse units had extensive heat, smoke and water damage. Varney estimated that about 50 percent of the damage was water. He warned homeowners, ‘Don’t store combustibles on the floor or near a water heater.’ And, if a car is smoking, don’t pull it into a garage. ‘It would have been one thing to put out a car fire,’ Varney said, ‘but this left three families without a place to stay.’
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