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Nine fires plague town in one week


Last updated 1/25/2007 at Noon

Nine individual fires, one of which claimed the life of a 32-year-old woman and seven of which appear to be related, have occurred in Fallbrook over the past week.

On Thursday, January 18, at 12:26 a.m., 32-year-old Melissa Maehler perished in a fire in her home, located in the 5000 block of San Jacinto Circle East Road. Maehler’s husband, 58-year-old Bernard William Acuna, escaped with injuries to his hands. Two children, ages 11 and 14, escaped the home safely.

“The origin of the fire is suspicious,” authorities said. One bedroom in the home was destroyed and smoke and heat damage occurred throughout the remainder of the house.

The most recent fire, on Saturday, January 20, at approximately 12:15 p.m., was caused by a lack of ventilation while workers were applying lacquer to cabinets, authorities say. The incident left two men injured – one with life-threatening injuries.

Luceano Borona, 34, and David Reynoso were working on a job in the 900 block of Rod Street, applying a lacquer finish to cabinets. Because the room they were working in had been completely sealed off from the rest of the house, when two fans were plugged in, the room “flashed” and became engulfed in flames.

Borona was transported to Fallbrook Hospital with life-threatening injuries and was later air-lifted to the UCSD Burn Unit. While some reports say Borona sustained third-degree burns to over 90 percent of his body, some emergency workers say they viewed the burns as second-degree. Reynoso reportedly suffered only minor burns in the incident.

“The house they were working on sustained approximately $50,000 in damage,” said John Buchanan of North County Fire. “There was some expensive artwork lost. One room sustained major water damage and heat damage from the flash.” Buchanan reported that five automatic fire sprinklers doused the fire.

Buchanan issued a word of caution to others involved in similar occupations: “Whenever people work with products with flammable vapors, they should work in a well-ventilated area to prevent accidents like this.”

Seven individual fires were set between midnight and 2 a.m. on Thursday, January 18, near two local elementary schools. Three of the seven fires were set on the grounds of Fallbrook Street School and others were near Maie Ellis School in the 400 block of West Elder Street. No injuries were reported in any of the seven blazes.

“We are calling it arson,” Buchanan said. “The fires destroyed a shed, bulletin board and a garden area with a compost bin. The cab of a propane truck was on fire. Our firefighters caught that in time and got it cooled off.” The successful resolution of the propane truck fire is said to have prevented an even greater disaster.

“Our guys did a great job cooling that tank down and making sure it didn’t cause a tank failure,” Buchanan confirmed.

The string of fires, set along surrounding streets, also destroyed two jet skis on a trailer, a Toyota Tercel and a Ford Courier pickup.

For Buchanan, the fires that appear to have been set intentionally are particularly disturbing.

“What bothers me most,” he said, “is that people don’t have a care for human life – no consideration for the safety of others and the property damage.”


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