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Fire guts Modesto building that's home to 18 businesses

UPDATE — Early this morning a handful of people came to look at the smoldering remains of a Carpenter Road office complex gutted by a weekend fire. The heat was so intense that it popped open file cabinets, stripped nearby trees of their bark and buckled the plastic trim on the neighboring Burger King.

An employee of the management group that owns the building at 1050 N. Carpenter Road said he was amazed the fire early Sunday didn’t spread.

“You have a building the size of a football field and you don’t see any damage to any other buildings,” he said, praising firefighters.

At 9 a.m. today, Modesto firefighters were shoveling debris as investigators reviewed surveillance video from the Burger King and two other cameras to find the cause of the fire, said Battalion Chief Mark Johansen.

The fire caused at least $1 million in damage, said Modesto Fire Department investigator Doug Machado. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but witnesses said it appeared to have started on the south side of the building.

The blaze destroyed 18 businesses, including Love’s Safe Driving School, Nico’s Landscape Management, a Farmers Insurance Group office, De Vaney Business Services and Weimer Chiropractic.

Carin Love, with Love’s Safe Driving School, said she’s already re-opened in a temporary location, as have some other tenants of the Carpenter Road complex.

“A lot of us are not out of business,” she said. “There’s a lot we’re still able to do.”

Someone calling 911 from the Burger King restaurant next door reported the fire at midnight. It took 27 firefighters about an hour to get the blaze under control, Johansen said.

    

A fast-moving fire early Sunday destroyed a Carpenter Road office complex, destroying 18 businesses.

The three-alarm blaze at 1050 N. Carpenter Road gutted the building, which housed Love's Safe Driving School, Nico's Landscape Management, a Farmers Insurance Group office, De Vaney Business Services and Weimer Chiropractic, among other businesses.

The fire caused at least $1 million in damage, said Modesto Fire Department investigator Doug Machado. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but witnesses said it appeared to have started on the south side of the building.

Someone calling 911 from the Burger King restaurant next door reported the fire at midnight. It took 27 firefighters about an hour to get the blaze under control, said Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Mark Johan- sen. Two firefighters suffered strained neck and shoulder muscles; no other injuries were reported.

The building's basement was equipped with a sprinkler system, but authorities didn't know whether it was activated. Authorities believe the 15,000-square-foot building was empty when the fire started.

The mostly wooden building was about 35 years old, said complex owner Larry Melton. He said he didn't know how many of the businesses are insured against fire damage, and the blaze could force some establishments to close permanently.

"It was devastating for all the people there, including me," said Melton, who owns several commercial properties and kept an office in the building. "We had so many records there, it's just unbelievable. You would never think you would lose it all like that."

Selina Martinez, who works at Ofelia Farms in the building, said she got a call about the fire about 1:30 a.m. When she arrived at the one-story building, she saw flames "shooting out." "It was scary, like a torch," Martinez said.

On Sunday afternoon, caution tape surrounded the blackened building. A few business owners stood in the parking lot.

Some wanted to know whether they could go inside to see if anything was salvageable. Among them was Martha F. Ayala-Rivas, a legal assistant for immigration lawyer Kanwal Singh. She said Singh had 12 years of client files in his office, including original legal documents and birth certificates. Ayala-Rivas said she didn't know whether the file cabinets were fireproof.

"Most of that stuff we didn't have backed up, so that's going to be tough," Ayala-Rivas said. "I just hope there's a way we can get to our clients."

Melton called the fire a reminder to business owners to back up files and data. "Back up your stuff and take it home," said Melton. "You just don't think you're going to need it, and then in a couple of hours it's all gone."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Bee reporter Merrill Balassone contributed to this report.

See Central Valley Report video below.



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