Fire destroys vacant Beachwood home, property

08/08/2014 7:23 PM

08/08/2014 10:12 PM

Flames raced through an abandoned house Friday afternoon in the Beachwood area and spread to a nearby trailer before firefighters extinguished the large blaze.

About 22 firefighters responded at 4:52 p.m. from the Merced County Fire Department. Heavy, black smoke could be seen several miles away from 2989 Maple Ave., in the unincorporated area of Merced, with flames reaching more than 15 feet into the sky.

No one was injured.

Neighbors Mariah Felix, 17, and Adilene Alatorre, 13, first smelled smoke and went outside to investigate. “There was all this black smoke, a whole bunch of real black, black smoke,” Felix said. “Then there were two loud exploding sounds. Really, really loud. I thought it was gunshots at first.”

Bob Smith, 77, lives next door to the house. He said his art studio was damaged by the fire but was unsure exactly how much of his property was ruined. He was most concerned about one of his pet dogs, who had not been found. There was no word Friday night on the dog.

Smith, a retired schoolteacher, has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years.

“I was in my (art) studio and I started smelling smoke, real strong, and went outside and saw everything burning,” Smith said. “It was burning in the back there, but then (the fire) just took off and got to everything in the front.”

Battalion Chief Glenda Leonard said the cause of the fire was still undetermined Friday night. She said the blaze was not considered suspicious, but the possibility of foul play had not been ruled out. Initial reports of people injured inside the home were unfounded, Leonard said.

Firefighters expected to remain on scene until after 8 p.m., mopping up.

Damage estimates were not available Friday.

Neighbors reported numerous problems with people staying overnight in the house and said it had been surrounded with overgrown weeds, bushes and low-hanging trees for many years. Weed abatement notices were posted on the sagging, wooden fence.

“They put the notices on there three years in a row, but nothing ever happens. Until now, obviously,” Smith said.

He said the house had been vacant about 10 years, but was frequently occupied by people that he and his neighbors described as “squatters.”

“I haven’t seen them in there for a few days, but we ran over and were yelling ‘Is anybody in there,’ just in case,” Smith said. “It’s pretty bad right now. I’m glad nobody was hurt, at least.”

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