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Fire guts Modesto agency's office

A bus used by the Parent Resource Center had a rock thrown through it's rear right-side window on the same morning a fire started that the Modesto Fire Department suspects was caused by arsonists. (Brian Clark/The Modesto Bee)
A bus used by the Parent Resource Center had a rock thrown through it's rear right-side window on the same morning a fire started that the Modesto Fire Department suspects was caused by arsonists. (Brian Clark/The Modesto Bee) The Modesto Bee

A Thursday morning fire at the Parent Resource Center in Modesto gutted the center's administration offices and caused more than $250,000 in damage.

Arson is suspected, according to the Modesto Fire Department, which was dispatched to the three-alarm fire at 811 Fifth St. at 2:56 a.m. Nobody was injured.

"We're in shock," said Leah Silvestre, executive director of the child abuse prevention agency. "Why someone would want to do this to the Parent Resource Center boggles the mind."

The fire started behind the building in a shed that holds event supplies. The shed sits against the building, and Battalion Chief Hugo Patino believes it might have gone through a window and into the building's interior and attic area. Flames shot into the night sky as 35 firefighters worked the blaze, which took about an hour to contain.

Seven engines, two trucks, four chief officers and two investigators responded to the scene.

The building houses the administration office, which suffered severe water and smoke damage. Two buildings behind the office, used for classrooms and child care, were not damaged.

"The Fire Department was absolutely amazing," said Silvestre, noting that the agency's computers were saved.

She got a call to her home at 3 a.m. that a burglar alarm had been set off and hopped in her car. About three blocks from the center, she saw the smoke and the lights from the firetrucks.

"It was fully engulfed," she said.

Among the signs the fire intentionally was set, according to Patino, was a rag that was lodged in the gas tank of a bus the center uses that was parked between the administration offices and classrooms. Also, a window in the back of the bus had been broken out. Next door, at the Moose Lodge, two windows and a screen had been broken.

"There were a couple of things like that that were strong indicators that it had been set intentionally," said Patino, who wouldn't go further into detail, adding that investigators are still collecting information.

Patino mentioned a rash of Dumpster fires in Modesto recently, including one next to the Dented Chef restaurant supply store on 13th Street downtown that blew through a window and caused damage, but could not say if they were related.

Patino said the fire at the center was difficult to contain because of the building's structure. He said it was a former bank building, which means the ceiling is high, in the 10- to 12-foot range. In addition, above that first ceiling is the original ceiling made of plaster, then the void space where the fire burned, and then the roof.

He said the fire burned through the roof, although it could have been worse. Because the fire didn't burn from the ground up, with no damage to the walls, it can be reconstructed without having to rebuild.

Still, Patino didn't diminish the water and smoke damage to the records and all that goes into running the center.

"We've already had calls from people volunteering to let us use space," Silvestre said. "We're looking for temporary office space."

The private nonprofit center offers support to parents through in-home volunteer mentoring and on-site parenting education classes to decrease the risk of child abuse, neglect and family violence.

Classes are Monday through Wednesday, although with all the records and other stuff moved into those buildings, classes next week will be canceled, Silvestre said.

There are two to three two-hour classes held each day, serving up to 20 students. The child-care center is used only to take care of children whose parents are taking classes.

"The goal is to get up and running," said Silvestre, adding that all costs to rebuild are covered by insurance. "I think we will end up on our feet. It'll just take time to process and sift through everything."

She said she will update the center's Web site with the latest news about the agency, and if anyone's looking to help, they'll be there "waiting with open arms."

Anyone wanting to donate to the center to help can do so through any Oak Valley Bank, account No. 010604481. The account was set up through Oak Valley's Escalon branch, but donations can be made at any branch, Silvestre said.

Bee online content editor Brian Clark can be reached at bclark@modbee.com or 578-2362.

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