Responding to trouble at the former Chevys Fresh Mex restaurant is getting stale for Modesto public-safety personnel and the property owner.
Transient activity inside the boarded-up building on Standiford Avenue, including multiple fires, has made it an issue for the Fire Department over the past month, a battalion chief reported Tuesday morning.
Just a couple of hours earlier, firefighters responded to the latest blaze in the eatery, which shut its doors on Christmas Eve 2016.
About 3:15 a.m. Tuesday, six engine crews, two truck crews and a battalion chief responded to the report of a fire there. "Police officers were on scene dealing with a possible transient issue when they spotted the smoke," Battalion Chief Darin Jesberg wrote in his report. Firefighters made entry and quickly contained a fire in the kitchen/bar area, he said.
The Chevys building is in a center at Standiford and Carver Road that also includes a Walgreens and insurance and IRS offices. Since October, police have responded to 15 calls there that specifically named Chevys, said Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves. "The majority were trespassing and security checks," she said. "Two were classified as arson — one that we responded to on Dec. 13 and this morning's."
Since the restaurant closed, the Fire Department has responded to five fires at the address; four other calls, such as securing utilities and the building; and seven medical calls, spokeswoman Jessica Smart said. "There's been an uptick since March," she said.
Lydia Scott of Gold Coast Protection began her shift Tuesday not knowing there'd been another fire earlier in the morning. She didn't seem surprised. "I walk over here every day and evening," she said after arriving from another part of the commercial center. "You do as best as you can, you know? You can't keep up with these people, they're too fast."
On warmer nights, when people sleep just on the restaurant patio, "that's different," Scott said. But during the cold weather of winter, "that's when it was bad, very bad. ... When you start breaking in and going inside, and they broke all the glass to get in."
One morning, she arrived to find water flowing from beneath the entry and patio doors. Someone had turned all the taps on. Stools and other furnishings are stacked up in the bar area, she said, which easily could feed a fire. And, no surprise, she's found human waste inside. But she was surprised at where she found it: in the walk-in freezer, which apparently was being used as a toilet.
When alone, she won't go into the old restaurant, she said. If the doors have been broken into again, she'll open them, shine her flashlight around and shout for anyone who may be inside to get out.
Authorities will fasten boards to keep intruders out, Scott said, "and, shoot, they're down within two days." Every time firefighters and police have to respond to the building, "that's money," she added.
Stockton-based Northgate Commercial Real Estate is working with the property owner/manager, who lives in Oregon, to make something happen with the site. But Northgate CEO Xavier Santana said the transient trouble is a costly distraction.
"We're working with him (the owner) to get pricing to secure the wood-frame building to city code (standards)," Santana said. To do that, the owner has been spending on average $200 a day "and is quickly running out of money.
"He's very well aware of (the break-ins, fire damage and other property damage) and wants to do this right. We hope to fully secure the building to city code and stop the transients from getting in."