An investigator said Wednesday morning a three-alarm fire started in the alley behind a Modesto strip mall on Yosemite Boulevard and destroyed a family's store.
The blaze Tuesday night was reported about 7:45 p.m. at the India Warehouse store at 2021 Yosemite. The fire appeared to have started directly behind the store, said Craig Davis, an investigator with the Modesto Regional Fire Authority.
Honni Lazar, who owns the nearby Luckysuds Laundromat, said he was at his business when the fire started. He said his cousin smelled smoke, and they spotted the large flames coming from a homeless man's tent behind the store.
"A homeless guy had been living there," Lazar said. "His tent just kept getting bigger and bigger."
The homeless man had been living in the alley for about four or five months, Lazar said. The laundromat owner called 911 immediately and watched as the flames neared utility lines overhead.
Lazar's business was not damaged by the flames, but the smell of smoke was widespread throughout the nearby businesses.
The fire investigator said firefighters stopped the flames from reaching the other businesses in the strip mall. Davis said fire damage was limited to the the India Warehouse store.
The flames gutted the business, destroying its contents. It didn't appear that any of the store's merchandise was salvageable. The store's roof collapsed, and its rear wall was destroyed.
Firefighters arrived at the store Tuesday night and immediately called for additional engines. The blaze was soon upgraded to three alarms.
Davis said the firefighters were faced with low water pressure in the area.
Next to that business sits Gordo’s Pool City, along with a barber shop, the laundromat and other small businesses.
The fire sent flames and thick clouds of smoke into the air, affecting traffic. The fire drew crowds of people, and westbound traffic was shut down.
Live power lines in the alley behind the businesses were causing issues, and Modesto Irrigation District was called out to shut off power in the area.
The fire was deemed under control at about 9:10 p.m.