Fire at Oakdale senior apartments

OAKDALE -- Fire officials said Wednesday an unattended burning cigarette sparked a blaze early Tuesday that displaced about 20 residents of an apartment complex for seniors.

The Red Cross provided motel rooms for 14 of those residents, while the rest are staying with relatives, said Jim Money, emergency resources director for the Red Cross.

Red Cross officials met with the apartment complex staff and its residents Wednesday night to discuss restoration efforts.

Money said it is possible that six apartments that sustained water damage during the fire might be repaired and available to tenants next week. It might take up to two months before tenants can return to the other seven badly burned apartments, he said.

An eighth significantly damaged apartment won't be needed since the tenant found another home.

Employees at Oak Haven Senior Housing, 470 E. A St., were working to help the displaced residents Wednesday and viewing the damage left behind. Assistant Manager Gayla Pick- ford said the damage to some of the second-floor units is extensive and gave no estimate for when the residents could return.

"We don't know how long it's going to take," Pickford said about the repairs. "We've been scrambling trying to find homes for these people. Some of these people just don't have any other place to go."

Pickford, 75, has worked and lived in the senior housing complex since Hurricane Charley displaced her from her Florida home in August 2004. She said Tuesday's fire was just as scary, but everyone got out quickly and safely.

"Our fire alarm worked perfectly," Pickford said. "That thing would wake up the dead."

Emergency officials responded to the fire at 2:22 a.m. and it quickly went to three alarms. Firefighters got the blaze under control in about 30 minutes, said Oakdale Fire Chief Mike Botto.

He said the fire quickly spread up the wood-sided walls to the attic area. Firefighters launched an interior attack through the complex's center hall up to the second-floor apartment where the fire originated, Botto said.

He said the burning cigarette was left behind on a second-floor balcony by one of the tenants.

Fire damage was limited to the second-floor units. Water and smoke damaged the units below.

Oakdale Rural and Stanislaus Consolidated fire districts assisted in battling the blaze, along with the Modesto Fire Department, Botto said.

Money said the Red Cross has spent $5,000 in aiding emergency responders and displaced residents of this fire so far. He said they expect to spend about $10,000 before all the residents are allowed to return.

To help with costs to aid displaced residents of the Oakdale fire, call the Stanislaus County Chapter of the American Red Cross at 523-6451.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.