A series of blazes fueled by wind and dry conditions kept area firefighters busy Tuesday and into Wednesday.
The first grass fire started at 1:24 p.m. Tuesday in thick brush along Dry Creek behind the county health offices on Scenic Drive, said Modesto Regional Fire Authority Battalion Chief Cecil Ridge. The fire burned about a quarter-acre and took 90 minutes to contain. Ridge said the cause is suspicious, given there were several homeless encampments nearby.
As Modesto brush crews finished along Dry Creek, units were asked to assist the Burbank-Paradise Fire Protection District with a house fire on Rouse Avenue in west Modesto that displaced a family of seven. The house fire was the largest of the day and quickly advanced to two alarms, requiring the assistance of the Westport Fire District and the Ceres Fire Department.
With one of Ceres' engines on Rouse, only three remained when a car's engine caught fire and ignited a grass fire in the 2000 block of East Hatch Road in Ceres about 3:30 p.m.
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Pushed by a steady wind, the blaze spread through an acre of dry grass nearby, eventually crossing three property lines.
Authorities, who were delayed getting to the fire because schools were letting out nearby, upgraded the blaze to a potential structure fire because there were several buildings in the area. The fire burned through a fence and ignited a small shed before crews got it under control.
One firefighter suffered minor injuries during the Hatch incident. He was taken to Memorial Medical Center, where he was treated and released.
As Ceres crews mopped up the Hatch Road grass fire, one of their engines was asked to assist Modesto with a blaze along the Tuolumne River near the Carpenter Road Bridge. That fire charred three acres and kept crews busy for more than four hours, Ridge said.
When they were done, Modesto firefighters had just 15 minutes before responding to a south Modesto lot where two vacant homes were ablaze. Ridge said the homes at Pearson Avenue and Hatch Road were destroyed, but the financial loss amounted to less than $20,000 because they were dilapidated.
The owner of the property told Ridge he'd recently purchased the lot and had planned to demolish one of the homes but was in the process of renovating the other.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but gas and electricity to both homes was turned off and the owner told Ridge he'd recently thrown away property that belonged to squatters.
Finally, at 6 a.m. Wednesday, a stock pot on low heat inside Surla's restaurant, 431 12th St., caught fire. Fortunately, a passer-by saw smoke coming from the vents in the roof and notified the fire department before it spread.
The fire destroyed the stock pot and several smaller pots that were hanging above it, but did no damage to the building, Ridge said.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209)578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.