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Original Sears, Roebuck and Co. home damaged by fire

Fire damaged one of Modesto’s original Sears, Roebuck and Co. homes Monday night, according to officials.

Modesto Fire Capt. Ryan Winton said flames and smoke were coming from the back of the home on the 300 block of Oak Street when firefighters arrived shortly after 7:45 p.m. He said the flames were out within 20 minutes but firefighters were on the scene for about two hours. The fire caused about $50,000 damage to the kitchen, a utility room and part of the attic.

Transients had taken up residents in the house, and Battalion Chief Hugo Patino said investigators suspect they started the fire, either by accident or on purpose.

According to owners, the house had been built from one of the kits Sears, Roebuck and Co. offered in their mail-order catalog.

The kits were shipped by railroad. Sears, Roebuck sold 70,000 to 75,000 of the self-assembly homes between 1908-40, according to the company’s Web site. The company had offered building materials since 1895 but in 1908 issued its first specialty Modern Homes and Building Plans catalog with 22 homes between $650-$2,500. The number of styles bloomed to 447 during the next 32 years.

“This house was built to withstand the test of time,” Patino said. “It has full-dimensional framing with 2x4s as opposed to what you have today, which are really 1½-by-3½ inches. The (old ones) have more strength to the wood and these were rough-cut timber. It’s pretty sturdy stuff.”

He said parts of the historic construction also posed a challenge to firefighters, who had to contend with a 12-foot ceiling that made it tough to get through to the attic.