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How The Modesto Fire Department Battled Two Big Blazes With Resources Stretched Thin

MODESTO (CBS13) — Two separate fires broke out on the same night in Modesto; ripping through a vacant warehouse and later some nearby homes.

The two fires tied up every available crew in the city as both blazes grew to four and five alarms.

"This is a major hazard," said neighbor Kyle Brown, who lives in a nearby apartment complex.

He described the fire as a sky full of flames.

"It definitely (reached) 20 feet above the building," he said, as he pointed to the firefighters dousing the flames from on top of a ladder. "These guys are pretty high in the air and the flames are going above them."


The five-alarm fire broke out about 9 p.m. Sunday night at a vacant warehouse near Modesto Junior College.

"This is the old Modesto ice plant," said Fire Chief Alan Ernst. "It's really well insulated, (there's) heavy beam construction inside, wood floors on first and second floors that made it difficult… and it was really windy last night and the fire advanced quickly."

As the fire spread throughout the entire 100,000 square foot structure and crews attacked it with four "aerial streams," the Modesto Fire Department got another call. This time for a fire burning between four homes on Enslen and Roseburg Avenues in Modesto's College area.

Neighbors told CBS13, because of the other fire, it took a while for units to respond.

"We first thought it was a tree on fire and then it spread to an RV and it exploded; went into the wires," said Andres Garcia who said he was passing by with his family when they spotted the flames.

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"Everyone was asleep. No firefighters were here. They were all busy," he added.

That's when he said he jumped out of the car to make sure no one was inside the homes.

"I came out yelling 'fire' like a crazy man; knocking on everyone's doors and then there was a police officer around the corner and he comes running in as fast as he can and me and him just split up. I'm like 'You go that way, I'll go this way,'" he said.

That fire also quickly grew to four alarms.

"Between the two fires, we had over 40 companies assigned in the city of Modesto," said Ernst.

He added the city is normally stocked with 10 engines and two trucks. Luckily, he said, the city has a mutual aid agreement with nearby agencies; allowing him to request additional crews from other cities and counties.

"We see it every year on the wildland fires. The state has a very robust and efficient mutual aid system and we actually utilized that last night in Modesto," he explained. "We called for resources throughout Stanislaus County as well as San Joaquin County to come and assist, not only with the two incidents but with covering the city as well.

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He said a ladder truck form Manteca assisted with the Enslen fire and crews from Stockton helped cover portions of the city. A ladder truck from Patterson was also brought in to help.

It's an important partnership, he said, that allowed the department to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to get the two big blazes under control.

"I think we had about 60 firefighters and just under 20 pieces of equipment," he said.

Ernst said in large incidents the city also has a policy in place that requires additional responding crews to stage nearby in case they're needed.

Sunday night, he said, three trucks were staged in the parking lot and were able to respond to the second fire. As for the cause and origin of the fires, Ernst said both blazes are under investigation.

"The warehouse is frequented by transients," he said. "Last night as we were making access we had several transients coming out of the building so all of that is part of the investigation."

He said the warehouse is considered a total loss and because of the amount of material the fire will likely burn for a couple of days. The residential fire caused about $500,000 dollars in damages to two homes.

No injuries were reported.

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