Investigators say they don't know what started the two-alarm fire that destroyed the offices of the Stanislaus Arts Council and two other businesses Thursday morning. No one was injured in the fire.
The blaze tore through an office complex at 1100 Kansas Ave., west of Emerald Avenue. The area has seen two other major fires in the past four months.
A suspected arson caused $150,000 in damage at Groceries for Less market at 1012 N. Carpenter Road in July. In August, fire destroyed an office building at 1050 N. Carpenter. Authorities believe a mechanical or electrical malfunction in the attic started the August fire.
Investigators have not ruled out arson as a possibility in the Thursday morning fire, Modesto fire Battalion Chief Sean Slamon said.
A 911 caller on a cell phone reported the fire at 3:50 a.m., Slamon said. Firefighters arrived at 3:56 a.m. and found the 5,500-square-foot building engulfed in flames.
Arts Council Executive Director Grace Lieberman arrived at the scene about 5 a.m. to find her offices destroyed. Brand new computers were reduced to "lumps of plastic," Lieberman said. Three decades of files, artwork and art supplies were lost in the fire. So was a restored 1904 piano that recently was donated to the Arts Council.
"It's going to be starting at square one again," Lieberman said. "It hurts my heart."
The 31-year-old arts council runs several arts-promoting programs, including one that brings artists to public schools and another that displays artwork at a Hughson hospice. The nonprofit organization is funded by grants and private donations.
Lieberman said the Arts Council's mailbox wasn't damaged in the fire, so people still can mail donations.
"I'm hoping that some people will take pity on us and help us out," she said.
A second smaller building that's part of the same complex was undamaged.
At 10 a.m. Thursday, firefighters were sifting through wreckage to salvage computers and other valuables for business owners. Besides the Arts Council, the building housed Nirvana, an addiction treatment business, and Cal Central Catering Trailers, which sells parts for taco trucks.
Miguel Prado, a manager of Cal Central Catering Trailers, stood outside the blackened wood shingle building taking photos of the damage.
"It's upsetting that we invested so much money in there," he said.
The business employs six people. Everything at the business was destroyed except for some computers firefighters managed to save, Prado said.
Firefighters at first battled the blaze inside the building, then retreated to fight flames from the outside when the roof started to collapse, Slamon said. Heat forced the steel roof outward, then dissolved it. Firefighters had the fire under control at 5:08 a.m. Five engines, two ladder trucks and 22 firefighters ultimately responded to the blaze.
Building co-owners Dennis and Chet Cummins said the building was built in 1990. Chet Cummins estimated that the structure was worth about $600,000.
"We're lucky that no one was hurt, that's the main thing," Dennis Cummins said. "You can replace the building."
The building at 1100 Kansas replaced an office complex destroyed by a 1990 arson, Chet Cummins said.