Brian Curcio was awakened suddenly, long before dawn on Thursday, by his girlfriend in their Hermosa Beach home on The Strand.
She had heard shouting from outside their unit. He looked through a window and only saw orange, and when they got outside they faced searing heat.
“There was panic,” said Curcio, 24. “Everyone figuring out what was going on.”
A three-story house, under construction next door, was engulfed in flames.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department received calls just before 2 a.m. for the ocean-front structure on the 800 block of The Strand and extinguished the blaze in about an hour, but not before the fire had spread to four neighboring homes.
Most of the framework of the three-story home was destroyed, but still stood as a blackened mess, with only some wood pillars untouched by flames. Damage to the four other residential properties varied: A home to the rear sustained major fire damage to the attic and kitchen, while the building with units that Curcio and his girlfriend live in suffered window damage and burns to a wall.
Michael Christopher Kotva, 27, was detained near the fire scene and was later booked on suspicion of arson, officials said.
“It’s rough right now, in the aftermath,” Curcio said hours later, standing near the patio of his home.
Curcio said the neighboring home had been under construction for about nearly a year: New owners had purchased the property, and the previous structure had been torn down.
Neighbors Tom and Cecille Montell called 911 and were thankful for the quick response from firefighters.
Tom Montell has lived in the triplex just on the other side of the burned house since 1999. He said he's not seen a fire this bad along The Strand in 20 years.
Their French bulldog Walter woke them up and Cecille Montell was the first to the window.
“I lifted up the blinds and could see a wall of flames,” Cecille Montell said.
Tom Montell said the fire damaged all the windows on the south side his home, which also sustained water damage from fire hoses.
“It could have been so much worse,” Cecille said.
Later Thursday morning, neighborhood residents and those visiting the beach stopped by, taking photos of the damage. Smoke continued to creep up through the wooden frame of the house, so firefighters continued spraying water and foam.
Debris from the wreckage was scattered throughout the beach neighborhood.
An orange mug sat atop burned kitchen debris on the porch of the home behind the construction site.
In all, six people, including Curcio and his girlfriend, have to live elsewhere until repairs are made.
Paul Harrison stopped by to check on old neighbors. The 51-year old who works in real estate used to live where the three-story home was being built for 15 years until he moved to Redondo Beach in 2009.
“I was worried about the people in the back (behind the home),” he said. “One of them said it started as a little tiny fire, but within three minutes, it had spread quickly.”
One firefighter suffered a minor injury and was treated at a hospital, said Brian Stevens, a county fire inspector.
—Lisa Jacobs contributed