MODESTO — Tom Johnson and his wife were fast asleep early Wednesday when a loud noise jolted them awake.
"It was a big bang at about 1:30," Johnson said. "Then there was another loud bang."
He and his wife ran to opposite ends of their Elmwood Avenue home to look out the windows. He didn't see anything, but she saw flames on their next-door neighbor's house and hollered at him to call 911.
According to Modesto Regional Fire Authority Battalion Chief Hugo Patino, the fire started in the back porch of the home and spread quickly. The occupants, described by Johnson as a family with two children, escaped safely.
"The fire department got here really fast," Johnson said.
When firefighters arrived, Patino said, the rear third of the bungalow-style, single-story house was on fire, with dense black smoke coming from the attic.
Crews went into the house and onto the roof to fight the fire. When the back roof began to fail and firefighters learned that the fire had spread to the basement, they changed to a defensive position and pulled everyone out of the house and off the roof. The roof collapsed a few minutes later, Patino said.
Firefighters spent 40 minutes putting out the fire and stayed on scene for several hours to extinguish hot spots and investigate.
Officials had not determined what caused the fire, but it appears to have been accidental, Patino said. Damage was estimated at $200,000 to the structure and $50,000 to the contents of the house.
The family, which was not identified, had renter insurance, according to Johnson. It was getting help with a place to stay through its insurance company.
Because the house remains unstable, fire officials did not allow anyone to go inside. On Wednesday, employees with Restoration Resources were at the scene, setting up a chain-link fence to keep out intruders.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.