July 5, 2013

Modesto-area fire agencies team against home, vegetation blazes

The busiest Fourth of July in years for Modesto-area firefighters was eased slightly by the support and cooperation from numerous agencies in the area, authorities said.

The busiest Fourth of July in years for Modesto-area firefighters was eased slightly by the support and cooperation from numerous agencies in the area, authorities said.

A vegetation fire — one of 16 reported Thursday — and a north Modesto fire that spread to two houses and caused extensive damage sent three firefighters to the hospital with minor injuries.

But help from several Stanislaus County agencies, and a couple from San Joaquin County, kept damage and injuries to a minimum.

"I think last night really showed the effects of (resource sharing)," said Battalion Chief Eric DeHart of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District. "If we hadn't had those relationships it would have been a lot more stressful for the crews and we would have been stretched a lot thinner."

Two firefighters were injured while battling a three-alarm blaze that caused extensive damage to two homes on Modesto's Royalton Court.

Both firefighters, one suffering from a heat-related injury and another who was struck in the eye by an object, were released hours later from a nearby hospital, according to Battalion Chief Alan Ernst of the Modesto Regional Fire Authority.

The fire on Royalton was part of what Ernst said was the "worst Fourth of July in 20 years."

He said there were other calls during the Royalton blaze and the three-acre vegetation fire earlier in the day that sent another firefighter to the hospital with heat-related injuries.

Fireworks blamed

Battalion Chief Hugo Patino of the fire authority said the majority of the vegetation fires were caused by fireworks.

Spread so thin, Modesto received support from Stanislaus Consolidated, Burbank-Paradise Fire District, Woodland Avenue Fire District, Turlock Fire Department, Ripon Consolidated Fire District and the Escalon Fire Department, Ernst said.

He said Stanislaus Consolidated received coverage from the Hughson Fire Protection District after attending to a two-alarm fire in Empire. Fire crews from Ceres, Modesto, Oakdale, Hughson and Denair also worked the blaze.

Fire authority firefighters received numerous calls about 10:30 p.m. reporting flames between the two homes on Royalton, just southwest of the Standiford Avenue and Tully Road intersection.

When firefighters arrived, flames had spread into a garage and eventually into the attics of both homes. Crews took an offensive mode and tore down ceilings in both homes to get to the fire.

All residents had exited the houses safely, Ernst said.

The fire is under investigation, though a resident at one of the homes said people there had lighted legal fireworks in the street earlier in the evening and had put the debris in a bucket of water on the side of the house.

Ernst said the origin of the fire was in that area, but he stopped short of confirming the cause until the investigation was complete.

The fire took about 30 minutes to contain, and fire crews were there for three hours mopping up. He said there was damage to the kitchen areas and living rooms of both homes, but that firefighters did a good job of putting down tarps over furniture before pulling down the ceilings.

He estimated the combined damage at $180,000.

Ernst said two other fires about that time, one in west Modesto and another in east Modesto, did not cause damage to any structures thanks to fast work by his crews.

One fire originated in cypress trees and another in a field. Both threatened homes, but fire crews were able to battle back the flames.

Stanislaus Consolidated also had its hands full Thursday.

At 12:40 p.m., it was called to a large structure fire in the 400 block of E Street in Empire, DeHart said.

Several people were displaced. Crews were at the scene until 5:15 p.m., he said.

At 10:50 p.m., Stanislaus Consolidated firefighters were called to a structure fire in the 100 block of Santa Ana in Modesto. When they arrived, they found one abandoned house fully engulfed and another abandoned house threatened.

One home was destroyed, and the other one was damaged.

Crews were at that fire until about 12:30 a.m.

Patino lauded the work all agencies have done in the name of sharing resources. The work on procedures and joint training paid off Thursday.

"It was excellent," he said. "The intent is to eliminate the boundaries so we can better serve the public."

Senior Editor/Digital Brian Clark can be reached at (209) 578-2362 or bclark@modbee.com. Follow Brian on Twitter, @BrianClarkMod.

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