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Fire destroys Winton center

WINTON -- A Winton bar and liquor store were destroyed and surrounding stores damaged by an early morning fire Tuesday blamed on electrical causes.

The 2:08 a.m. fire did $2 million damage, obliterating the Turf Liquor store and Outpost Bar in the Hacienda Plaza at 6500 Winton Way. The Express Cuts Beauty shop and Winton 2nd to None clothing store received major damage, but an adjoining health clinic was spared.

Battalion Chief Mark Lawson of the Merced County Fire Department said suspicious causes have been ruled out. Heavy smoke was showing when firefighters responded. Within 10 to 15 minutes when the bar and liquor store roof caved in, flames shot high into the air.

Patricia Borzin of Castro Valley has owned the Winton 2nd to None store for four years. She got a call at 3 a.m. alerting her about the fire. The ceiling collapsed in her store and there was significant water damage throughout.

"I'm just in total shock," Borzin said. "I'm lost; I've never seen anything like this. I'll rebuild, I don't know where, but I'll be back."

A 6-foot-high pile of charred debris was piled in front of the bar and liquor store and more blackened material was located out back. Nothing remained of the interior of the bar and liquor store.

Fifty-four firefighters from Winton, Cressey, Castle, Atwater, Merced, McKee and Ballico stations battled the fire. One firefighter received a minor foot injury, Lawson said.

County fire engineer Justin White said this was the biggest fire he had worked in a year at the Winton station.

On the scene 13 hours after the fire, White said when he arrived he noticed "really heavy smoke" at the back of the complex and the building was fully engulfed in flames once the roof collapsed.

Roy Loewen has been a Winton volunteer firefighter since July 1993. He said this is the biggest fire he had experienced since the Buddy Boy Market was destroyed years ago.

Loewen and fellow volunteer Erica Suarez noticed multiple explosions inside the building as carbon dioxide canisters used to dispense soda in the bar blew up.

Suarez noticed smoke billowing into the air as she responded from her McSwain area home.

Fire engineer John Slate said firefighters made a "good stop" -- keeping the fire from spreading to the rest of the shopping complex.

White said it's very difficult to keep a fire from consuming an entire strip mall section, given the common attic the businesses share.

George Starling, site manager of the Castle Family Health Centers clinic adjacent to the clothing store, said their office suffered minimal damage. He said he arrived on the scene about 5:15 a.m. and originally thought he was dreaming when he heard news about the fire on an early morning television newscast.

Castle Family Health Centers has clinics in Winton, the former Bloss Hospital in Atwater and Castle Commerce Center.

The Winton office, which normally sees 20 to 30 patients a day, should be back fully functioning next week, Starling said.

Tony Ortiz, information systems director for the health clinic, said the firewall between the clothing store and his office stopped the spread of the fire.

Borzin, the clothing store owner, said much of her merchandise appears salvageable but items toward the back of the store were destroyed by fire. She's not sure about her loss and said she was in the process of renewing her insurance.

Her store sold work pants, men's clothing and a "little bit of everything."

Lawson said firefighters were able to save $1.5 million in surrounding buildings and contents.

Eight fire engines and two water tenders were deployed. Atwater and Merced city fire departments also rendered assistance.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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