Witnesses recount details of Monday’s fatal fire


Patricia “Patsy” Williams, a retired waitress who worked for more than 20 years at La Jolla Country Club, died Monday morning in a fire that caused an estimated $300,000 worth of damage to a home at 5530 La Jolla Hermosa Ave. in Bird Rock.

There were three other people injured in the fire that broke out about 7:45 a.m. and took crews about 10 minutes to extinguish — the woman’s son-in-law, Burnell K. Stockton; a police officer; and a construction worker, said Maurice Luque, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesman.

All suffered from smoke inhalation after entering the burning structure to help the victims, he added. The policewoman also sustained scratches and bruises to her arm when she fell. All three were taken to the hospital for treatment.

At lunchtime on Monday at the smoke-ravaged Bird Rock home, an informal gathering of family and friends of 90-year-old Patsy Williams talked about what had transpired.

“They found her in the kitchen upstairs,” said the victim’s grandson, Michael Stockton.

The report from the Fire-Rescue Department was that faulty wiring caused the fire, which also caused a loss of $100,000 in personal items. But occupants of the home and their relations said they doubted that was the case.

“It wasn’t the wiring,” said Michael Stockton, adding the only thing wrong with the single-family home his grandmother had lived in since 1956 was pipes and plumbing.

“We don’t know if it was a cigarette: She was a smoker.”

“She always boiled water for coffee in the morning,” said Michael Stockton’s father, Burnell, who was one of the three people hospitalized briefly that morning after the fire for smoke inhalation. “I think she turned the fire on — and didn’t get the match out quick enough.”

“She was very shaky; had very slow reactions, a swollen hand,” added Michael Stockton. “She probably dropped the cigarette or what he (Burnell) said, was lighting the stove.”

Michael Stockton said his grandmother had “everything locked tight” in the home. “Granny had both doors locked,” he added. “The fire started up in her kitchen. It got going (then) up in the attic and there were actually flames above his (Burnell’s) bedroom. He was (downstairs) in the living room.”

Extensive damage was done to the home’s roof, where firefighters had to “cut a hole in the roof” to ventilate the fire, the fire department spokesman said.

Said Michael Stockton: “You don’t want to look up on top, there’s four holes. There are a lot of sunroofs right now. That was one way to clean your attic out. Get a dumpster. There will be a lot of work.”

Luque said two construction workers were the first to notice the fire.

“They grabbed a hose and put water on the fire to keep it from spreading,” he said.

There was extensive damage to both the granny flat and the main home but neither was destroyed. “There’s no fire damage in the inside of the front of the house,” Luque added.

Four Chihuahuas found at the house during the fire were taken to animal control for safekeeping and were to be released to Williams’ relations on Tuesday.