Over the years, Deathworkz haunted house has had a variety of spooky scenes: ghosts, vampires, body parts.
But for fans of the longtime attraction, run annually at a central Modesto home, the scariest is this year – a small blue sign hung outside the entrance that says “Closed.”
City of Modesto inspectors shut down the haunt, as it’s called, last week before its planned opening day Friday.
Officials could not be reached for comment, but issued a statement Friday through spokeswoman Amy Vickery that said, in part, “Following resident complaints, city inspectors visited a haunted house with dim lighting (hindering visible exits), narrow passageways that will be a fire code violation when congested, flammable building materials, zoning and building code violations. The Modesto Fire Department and Code Enforcement issued a Stop Work Order yesterday and we understand the homeowner’s disappointment. However the safety of our residents has to remain a top priority for the city of Modesto.”
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The decision left Lynette and Chris Brown flummoxed and sad.
“This would have been our 16th year,” Lynette Brown said Sunday.
Deathworkz started humbly, as the Browns decorated for Halloween.
“We’ve always liked scaring each other,” Lynette Brown said, “The first year, we decided to set up something in the front yard.”
Over the years, it developed into a full-fledged attraction, with tarp-covered rooms where volunteer actors waited to scare visitors. It’s considered a “home haunt,” and the Browns, who estimate that they spend $3,000 to $5,000 yearly on it, don’t charge for admission.
The Browns said they have worked with city inspectors in the past – one year, the haunt extended into the sidewalk and they had to move it back onto the lawn – and haven’t had any problems. They have safety measures, such as fire extinguishers in every room, and ensure each visitor signs a waiver before entering. They also monitor the number of people inside at any one time and conduct drills to get people out should something such as an earthquake occur during operating hours. Many of the surfaces are flame-retardant, and the Browns don’t use any fire inside; all the flames are battery-operated.
“We go a little farther than most home haunts,” Chris Brown said.
Fans who have been arriving from as far away as Dublin and Sacramento have been disappointed to find the haunt closed. The hardest part, the Browns said, is turning children away. Each year, they offered special scare-free tours for the younger fans.
The Browns aren’t sure what they will do next Halloween, but said they are eager to continue their scary tradition.
It will likely be somewhere else.
Bee staff writer Victor Patton contributed to this report.