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Fire leaves west Modesto church congregation without a place to worship

Westside Neighborhood Church, 821 California Ave., Modesto, was badly damaged by fire. smoke and water on Friday night, Oct. 18, 2019.
Westside Neighborhood Church, 821 California Ave., Modesto, was badly damaged by fire. smoke and water on Friday night, Oct. 18, 2019.

A west Modesto pastor said he anticipates having to relocate his congregation after fire badly damaged his church Friday night.

The Rev. Carlton J. Wright immediately faced the need for a place to worship Sunday and to hold the 48th anniversary service of his Westside Neighborhood Church on Oct. 27.

Shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, crews from the Modesto and Ceres fire departments responded to reports of flames showing from the church, 821 California Ave. First firefighters on scene could see flames at the rear of the building.

Crews first knocked down flames from the outside, according to a battalion chief’s report, and when sufficient resources were on scene, they entered the church and extinguished fire.

Fire damage was contained to one wing of the church, Battalion Chief Andrew Hunter said Saturday, but there was smoke damage throughout. Crews were on scene more than three hours to battle the blaze, do mop-up and ventilate the building.

An early estimate put damage at $75,000, Battalion Chief Jesse Nicasio said. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Between fire, water and smoke damage, the church will have to be “gutted,” Wright said Saturday. “This happened so quickly, we haven’t had time to meet yet,” he added about church leadership.

But because of the age and condition of the church, repairing it likely would cost more than it’s worth, he said. “If we’re going to spend that kind of money, I’d rather put it into a new place,” the pastor said. “I’m not opposed to moving into another building.”

The church’s congregation currently is fewer than 50 people, Wright said. He was working Saturday to find a hotel meeting room for Sunday’s services and for the following Sunday’s 48th anniversary appreciation service.

The congregation also needs to find a long-term temporary place of worship, the pastor said.

Anyone able to help Westside Neighborhood Church can reach Wright at 209-918-3297.

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.
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