"It was the smell of smoke that woke me up," Hipchen said. "The smell
was causing me to dream I was at a campfire."
When he jolted awake, he ran across the hallway to the room where his
21-year-old daughter, Rachel, was sleeping.
"I ran past that stairway to get her," he said Thursday, pointing to
the second story of the charred house, "and by the time we came back to
the stairway just a few seconds later, it was completely filled with
With no other way to escape, they descended into the cloud in the
stairway to find that the front entrance was completely blocked by
"We ran to the back and got out the back way," he said.
Firefighters have not determined the cause of the fire, though they
believe it started in the garage, which the family used as a living area.
Authorities are investigating the fire as an accident and said they have
no reason to suspect a crime.
"What's unfortunate is that neither one of the smoke detectors in the
house was online," said Donna Boston, a spokeswoman for the Newport Beach
Police Department. "If either one had been working, it could have saved a
The house is considered destroyed, firefighters said.
Hipchen, who shares ownership of the home with a partner, has lived in
the house for five years. The house had recently been sold, he said, and
had gone into escrow on Wednesday.
Hipchen said he and his family had been planning to find another home
in Newport Beach or possibly Costa Mesa.
Later in the day, volunteers from the American Red Cross provided the
Hipchens and their two friends vouchers to a hotel in the area.
"We're just so lucky no one got hurt," Hipchen said.
* June Casagrande covers Newport Beach. She may be reached at (949)
574-4232 or by e-mail at o7 firstname.lastname@example.org .