A four-alarm fire Friday spread between two commercial buildings in downtown Modesto, destroying the Crescent Work & Outdoor supply store and at least two other businesses.
The Modesto Fire Department responded at just before 5 p.m. to a structure fire at Eighth and I streets. The blaze started in the building that houses AJ Batteries and Albert’s Tire & Wheels. Flames then spread to Crescent, which is on the H Street side of the same block.
One firefighter suffered heat exhaustion, but there were no other injuries reported, said Modesto Fire Chief Alan Ernst.
Both buildings were gutted by the fast-moving fire. A large plume of black smoke was visible throughout downtown and Stanislaus County, drawing a crowd of onlookers. Several spectators watched while eating at the taco trucks along H Street, directly across from the blazes. The heat from the fires could be felt by onlookers across the street.
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Crescent, a well-known retailer which supplies uniforms to the city’s first responders as well as outdoor gear, was open when the blaze spread to its roof. The store was evacuated after employees saw smoke in the area. Brother-and-sister owners Craig and Tiffani Stott said about 15 employees were inside and all got out uninjured.
“It’s pretty devastating. My grandparents started this business. It’s overwhelming to see,” said Tiffani Stott as she watched firefighters battle flames engulfing her family’s store. They pulled out from fighting the blaze inside the store after the structure became unsafe.
Crescent first opened in 1946 and has been in the downtown building on the corner of Eighth and H streets since 1963. The store has about 30 employees total.
Crescent employee Shelene Brown said she was working when she smelled smoke. She thought it was a water cooler malfunctioning, but then looked out back and saw smoke billowing from the next-door building.
“It’s unreal. We’re all very close. It’s like we’re family. This is a Modesto institution,” Brown said.
It is unknown whether anyone was inside the building at Eighth and I where the fire started. AJ Batteries and Albert’s Tire & Wheels were both destroyed, and only the shell of the structure remained. Burnt-out cars were visible inside the shop. No injuries were reported from either business.
Two other businesses along Eighth Street that are attached to Crescent, Bad Moon Bail Bonds and an Glamorous Upholstery, also appear to have suffered some damage.
The fire closed several blocks of I and H streets during the Friday evening commute and also blocked the Union Pacific Railroad freight line that parallels Eighth Street. More than a dozen fire engines were on scene, including Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and Stanislaus Consolidated. Ernst said between 50 to 60 firefighters were fighting the blazes in both buildings.
Modesto fire said at about 9:30 p.m. that the fire had been contained, but that crews would be working into the night to contain hot spots.
“This is the day you hope never comes,” said Craig Stott, as he watched Crescent burn. “Seventy-one years we’ve been here and we’ve worked hard. God bless these firemen and medics ... Anyone who’s got uniforms, you’re probably not going to be picking them up tomorrow, I’m afraid.”