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Ceres family loses their home in attic fire

Fire gutted this Ceres home early Thursday. Five people were evacuated by Ceres police,
including two in wheelchairs.
Fire gutted this Ceres home early Thursday. Five people were evacuated by Ceres police, including two in wheelchairs. Modesto Bee

Kathryn Forsyth was the last person to leave her burning home early Thursday morning, having made sure her grandchildren, daughter and friend had gotten out safely.

Then, all the 65-year-old Ceres woman could do was watch in sadness.

"It was all I had," said Forsyth, choking back tears. "I had lived there since 1975, and it's all I had. I raised my girls there, and my grandchildren. ... It's always been a sanctuary if my kids needed a place. They always knew they could come home."

Her home in the 2100 block of Fifth Street was severely damaged within an hour after the family awoke to a loud popping sound at 3:20 a.m. Forsyth and her daughter, Deanna Frazier, rushed to the kitchen to look up and see that the attic was on fire, and then alerted the rest of the family.

Granddaughter Amber Rogers, an 18-year-old Ceres High School student with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair, was the first out of the house. Frazier, caregiver for friend Russell Louns, helped Louns out of his hospital bed and into a wheelchair and out of the house. Josh Rogers, 19, Forsyth's grandson, also made it out in time. Forsyth was the last to leave.

Ceres police were there almost immediately to help in the evacuation, and the Ceres Fire Department arrived four minutes after getting the call, extinguishing the blaze in about 30 minutes, according to Battalion Chief Mike Lillie.

The fire started in the attic, above the water heater, according to Lillie, who said an investigation into the cause continues.

Forsyth said the family smelled something peculiar earlier in the day, and the power surge bar in the living room made a funny pop about 3 p.m. About 6 p.m., she said,there was a smell of "fresh cut lumber," but they couldn't locate it and it went away.

She and her daughter were awakened by a loud pop, and seconds later saw the fire.

The damage to the 1,100 square-foot, one-story house was estimated at $150,000 -- the roof collapsed into the home -- along with $25,000 in contents, Lillie said. The house to the south lost a window because of the heat.

The family got housing and clothing vouchers from the Red Cross and were put up at the Travelodge in Modesto.

They can stay there until Monday morning. After that, Forsyth said, she doesn't know where they'll go.

She said she owns the house and it's insured to "cover the mortgage," but not for the contents.

She said the family has lost "99 percent" of what they owned.

"We don't know what's going to happen," Forsyth said. "You never think something like this is going to happen to you.

"It was like it wasn't happening. It took me awhile to realize I had lost everything. But I do have my family, and for that I'm thankful. Thank God for that."

Bee online news editor Brian Clark can be reached at or 578-2362.