An early morning house fire in the 19200 block of Yucca Street last Wednedsay has prompted a city councilmember to urge increased scrutiny of local metal recycling locations.


The reason? If the brass stems on nearby fire hydrants hadn't been stolen by metal thieves, the Malberg family home might have been saved. Instead, county firefighters who arrived soon after the early morning 9-1-1 call were forced to wait until the arrival of a water tender to extinguish the $175,000 blaze.


"I'm outraged that this is occurring," said City Councilwoman Rita Vogler. "I'm outraged that people are so desperate that they would do this."


As a result, Vogler has requested local sheriff deputies periodically visit area metal recycling plants to make sure the recyclers are not accepting stolen material such fire hydrant stems.


Vogler also warns residents to watch out for a new metal theft trend: stolen automobile catalytic converters. The converters, which reduce emissions, contain small amounts of precious metals. Thieves can sell the converters for less than $100, but it costs the victim around $1,000 to replace. In the case of the fire hydrant part, thieves probably got only $8 per piece, but it cost "much more than that" for the city to replace.


Vogler has requested Hesperia fire crews carry the stems to ensure such disasters - or even worse - don't occur. If a person were trapped inside a burning home, the lack of water could have been tragic.


"It could have been disastrous."


Vogler urges residents to stay alert and immediately report anyone tampering with a fire hydrant.


"The best thing we can do is look out for this nonsense. We're in for a tough time, but we can get through this if we work together."


Moreover, the metal theft problem certainly isn't solely a local one. "This is bigger than Hesperia," she said.


At 4:43 a.m. last Wednesday, firefighters were called to the Yucca Street structure fire with a male occupant possibly trapped inside. When they arrived, firefighters found the center portion of the home engulfed in flames. Neighbors were banging on the windows in an attempt to awaken the home's resident, Jerry Malberg. But after searching the main bedroom no one was found.


Firefighters went to connect their hose to the a fire hydrant across the street, but they found the brass nut was gone. The same piece of a fire hydrant several houses down also was stolen.


The lack of water forced firefighters to abandon their search of the man feared still inside the home. Soon after water resources arrived, however, fire crews searched the home again and it was determined no one was inside. A total of 17 firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze.


The fire was determined to be accidentally caused by an empty pan left on a lit back burner of a stove, which eventually caused drywall to catch fire.