SAN ANSELMO (CBS SF) — A devastating house fire in San Anselmo claimed the life of an elderly woman and sent another person to the hospital, Monday afternoon. A neighbor says the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) may have cost the homeowner’s life.


San Anselmo resident Richard Stess says he was walking his dog when he saw the flames. He tried to call 911 but he panicked. With no cell service in the area and no power, many landlines like his, cannot call out.

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Firefighters say they got the call of a house fire around 4:30 p.m., Monday. Stess rushed to help but he couldn’t call for help.

“I tried to call but can’t call. It took 15 minutes before the fire department could get here,” said Stess.

This neighborhood has been without power due to a PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) since Sunday night and without any cell service, it created a scenario homeowners have feared for years.

“We have 715 families here that don’t have cell service. It’s crazy,” said Stess.

Stess says a woman in her 90s and her son lived at the home. Chopper 5 captured firefighters desperately trying to knock down the fire.

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Chief Jason Weber with the Marin County Fire Department says, one person died and another suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation. With extra firefighters on staff during the Red Flag warning, they were able to keep the fire from spreading.

“We were quite fortunate. Our relative humidity was down to 4 percent at the time the fire broke out. Our winds had settled down a bit and thankfully this didn’t extend out to the wildland,” said Chief Weber.

Neighbors are left wondering if they were able to call for help, would it have saved a life. They are also wondering what would have happened if the fire started during the peak wind gusts.

“This whole valley can go up in an instant,” said Stess.

Stess says he has been working to get a cell tower in this area for several years just for emergencies like these.

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Chief Weber says the cause of the fire is under investigation.