An aftermath of a house fire at night, showing the charred remains of a two-story home. A satellite dish is partially visible amid the ruins, and smoke rises against a dark sky, illustrating the devastating effect of the fire.
The aftermath of a fire at 717 Alameda St. in Vallejo, Calif. on June 4, 2024. (Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo)

Vallejo residents woke up to emergency sirens, fire alarms, and a smoky night sky last week when large flames engulfed an abandoned home and damaged another near the city’s historic Architectural Heritage District

The Vallejo Fire Department responded around 2:30 a.m. last Tuesday to a fire at 717 Alameda Street, said Kevin Brown, the agency’s spokesperson. The first caller reported “flames already through the roof,” he said, and the structure was fully involved when fire trucks arrived. 

“This was certainly one of our larger fires of the year,” Brown said. 

As flames jumped to the attic floor of the adjacent home, a Swiss chalet-style craftsman at 721 Alameda Street, firefighters initiated a defensive attack and climbed atop the roof of that home with hoses.

“We made our priority saving that structure,” Brown said of the second building, which is listed as a stop on the Vallejo Architectural Heritage Tour. “We were very aggressive and that allowed us to save the entire remainder of the home.”

Daytime view of a large, two-story house with a classic design, featuring a balcony and a dark shingled roof. The house is surrounded by mature trees and clear blue skies, suggesting a peaceful residential setting.
Firefighters from Vallejo and allied agencies saved a Craftsman home next door to the fire, although the historic structure, seen here 10 days after the fire, sustained damage that will take months to repair, its owner said. (Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo)

Oscar Cabrera, who owns the historic home, said his wife woke up to a commotion in the early hours of June 4 and saw fire next door. She alerted her husband and five children — ages 17, 15, 13, and 9-year-old twins — who evacuated the home with no injuries. The family also rescued several pets: a cat, tortoise, gecko, and guinea pig, although the latter died several days after the fire, Cabrera said.  

Cabrera, who has lived in Vallejo for nearly three decades, bought the house in 2022 for its history and craftsmanship. He converted the attic into a playroom for his kids to watch TV and play video games. The room is now marked with extensive damage: windows shattered, a wall with paint that bubbled from the heat, a hole cut in the ceiling by firefighters. The residence smells like smoke and has been cut off from power and gas, Cabrera said. Water from rescue efforts damaged the house from attic to kitchen. 

The displaced family is now staying in a hotel. Cabrera said repairs, including replacing the roof, are expected to take three to six months. 

More than 30 firefighters responded to the scene, including Vallejo personnel and mutual aid from fire departments in Crockett, Benicia, American Canyon, and Fairfield, Brown said. 

The fire department has found no definitive cause for the fire. Investigators ruled it an accident, meaning they believe there was no malicious intent behind the blaze, Brown said.

A dramatic nighttime scene showing firefighters battling a blaze at a large multi-story house. The roof of the house smokes under a dark sky, with firefighters visible on the roof via a ladder truck, working to control the fire, highlighting the intensity and danger of their work.
Firefighters cut into the roof of the 1900 Craftsman home in an effort to keep the fire from spreading. (Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo)

The fire came as no surprise to Cabrera and his family, who frequently saw “squatters” coming in and out of 717 Alameda Street. The vacant house caught fire in the spring of 2022, shortly after the family moved in next door, according to Cabrera. The property was neglected after that incident, he said, despite numerous calls to the city. 

“It was just a mess down there — trees overgrown, clothes, people just throwing trash out on the street,” Cabrera said. “It was a little bit worrisome when you have kids right next door.” 

Brown said the fire department had responded to the same address at least two times in recent months to reports of smoke. The agency found small cooking or warming fires inside the home, Brown said, but no one on the scene. As a result, the department boarded up the building to keep people from entering.

Cabrera said he called the fire department several months ago when he saw smoke coming from the house. He said firefighters found a barbeque inside and boarded up the home. Then, just three days before the more destructive blaze, neighbors called in another fire at the same address; firefighters put it out and again tried to block entry into the home with plywood.

A Vallejo firefighter moving through dense greenery, looking directly at the camera, conveying a sense of alertness and preparedness. The background is lush and green with a hint of residential structures barely visible, so overgrown is the vacant property in the background.
Vallejo firefighters were called to 717 Alameda St. on several occasions since the building first burned two years ago, including on June 1, 2024. A fire on June 4 claimed the structure and threatened nearby homes. (Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo)

Cabrera said his wife had called the Vallejo Police Department three or four times to report the neglected property. But the department “told her that it was really not much they can do since she’s not the owner,” and instructed her to file a complaint with the city that could take months to resolve, according to Cabrera. 

Spokespeople for the city and police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Although upset about the lack of police action regarding his neighbor’s property, Cabrera said the fire department responded to every call from neighbors regarding smoke or fire at the property. 

“If it wasn’t for them, I would be totally out of a house,” he said of Vallejo’s firefighters. “At least right now I have a chance to fix it up and restore it.”

Anna Bauman is an investigative reporter with Open Vallejo.