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Bear Creek apartment complex suffers major damage in blaze

About two-dozen people were displaced early Sunday morning in a fire which did about $225,000 damage to a North Merced apartment complex. No injuries were reported in the 5:46 a.m. blaze at the Bear Creek Apartments, 2835 Park Ave., but the 16-unit building is out of service for the time being.

Merced Fire Chief Ken Mitten said there is nothing to indicate the fire's cause is suspicious but it remains under investigation and firefighters hope to talk to more residents before forming a conclusion.

Two upstairs apartment units were destroyed by fire and another four had heavy water damage. Part of the roof collapsed into the attic and second-floor apartments, Mitten said.

When firefighters arrived, they observed flames extending up the apartment wall into the attic. Mitten praised a firewall in the attic with stopping the fire's progress and allowing firefighters to gain a handle on the blaze. The fire was declared under control at 7:12 a.m.

Anne Bright, emergency services director for the Merced-Mariposa office of the American Red Cross, said her agency assisted four families with food, clothing and referrals to other agencies. A Red Cross canteen provided coffee and breakfasts for displaced residents. Some of the apartment dwellers were sent to vacant units in other parts of the apartment complex.

This is the third straight month a fire had displaced Merced apartment dwellers, Bright said.

Sunday's fire reached third-alarm status, which meant five engines, three officers and 17 firefighters were deployed, Mitten said.

Lt. Floyd Higdon of the Merced Police Department said officers Brian Bowen and Reynaldo Alvarez reported a working fire and saw flames climbing the outside wall of Apartment 13 and 14 and into the rafters.

A man was standing on the balcony of Apartment 14, just above the fire. The two officers entered the apartment and guided the man out of the unit. As other officers arrived, they then went from apartment to apartment evacuating the tenants. The involved building had 16 apartment units, all of which were evacuated.

Higdon said damage was contained to the one structure, one of 12 units at the apartment complex. The city's building inspector tagged all 16 apartment units as uninhabitable due to fire and water damage, and disconnection of electrical service to the building.

Fifteen police officers helped in the evacuation, traffic and crowd control, Higdon said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger

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