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Jardine: Bee carrier saves the day with news of fire in house

From the e-mails and voice mails:

SPECIAL DELIVERY - Longtime Bee carrier June Brown really delivered a week ago as she tossed newspapers along Rosemont Avenue in west Modesto.

As usual, she came upon the home rented by Agustin Barajas, Penelope Lopez and her two teenage children about 5:25 a.m. Most days, Brown simply flings the paper into the driveway and heads on to the next stop. This time, though, she saw a wafting haze in the pale light, noticing it even though there's a sizable tree in front of the home.

Let's see, it's June 30, with the temperature expected to reach 103 later that day. It sure didn't seem like weather to burn wood.

"I saw smoke coming out -- not out of a chimney, but out of the eaves," said Brown, who has delivered the paper since 1987, with most of her routes on the west side of town.

She called 911 and then ran up to the front door.

"She was knocking on our steel security door," Lopez said. "She was hitting it so hard it sounded like a gun going off."

After about 20 seconds, they came to the door and Brown told them the house was on fire.

The family quickly ran outside after Lopez's 17-year-old daughter, Michelle Davis, and 16-year-old son, Lavell Davis, rounded up their two Chihuahuas (one of them pregnant), terrier and cat.

Barajas and a next-door neighbor turned their garden hoses on the roof until fire crews arrived.

Inspectors later determined that electrical problems in the attic started the fire. By the way the wood charred, it appeared the fire had been smoldering for a few hours before turning into flames, said Hugo Patino, a Modesto Fire Department battalion chief.

The family received temporary housing from the American Red Cross and from Community Housing and Shelter Services, but they will soon be out on the streets because repairs to the home will be extensive.

Lopez is recovering from gall bladder surgery and Barajas recently lost his job as a Spanish-language telemarketer. They have established a family fire fund in Penelope Lopez's name at Bank of America.

Rebecca Ciszek, executive director of the Stanislaus County chapter of the Red Cross, said her agency doesn't accept donations for a specific family or person. But general donations to the Red Cross can be mean more motel nights for fire victims.

Lopez and Barajas said they plan to nominate Brown for a Red Cross Heroes Award. It would be presented at an event next spring.

"I want to thank her personally," Barajas said.

"I want to give her a hug," Lopez said. "Without her, no way would we have all gotten out."

STAR SEARCH -- Modesto native Ilana Youngheim has always dreamed of becoming an entertainment reporter, focusing on the talent and performances and avoiding the gossip that drives the industry. So after graduating from Davis High in 2001 and attending Modesto Junior College, she headed south to get her degree in broadcast journalism from California State University, Northridge. While trying to get her career going with jobs at KNBC, Jewish Life Television, KTLA and a production company, she started a celebrity news blog that she's turned into a Web site called www.mizhollywood.com. Last week, CNN linked to one of her video reports on the aftermath of Michael Jackson's death, a potentially good break for what amounts to a one-woman operation.

"I'm doing everything on my own," said Youngheim, 26. "I'm calling (public relations) people to set up interviews. I'm doing the scheduling."

And she conducts the on-air interviews. Visit her Web site to see the video she shot outside the Jackson family home in Encino.

VOICE RESONATES -- The late Harve Presnell's baritone voice graces the seven-minute video show at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. In the video Presnell, the former Modestan who died last week, tells the stories of a few who died during the Battle of Normandy in World War II, including fighter pilot Walter Perra of Ceres.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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