State

Fire a $300K loss for Turlock firm

TURLOCK — Hot weather and abundant fuel conspired against firefighters battling a blaze at a Turlock pallet company Monday. It took five agencies nearly two hours to get the fire under control.

Tuesday, investigators were still looking into what caused the fire, which caused an estimated $300,000 in damage to property and contents at Yerena's Pallets at South First and D streets.

The blaze was reported at 3:53 p.m. by workers at a neighboring business.

Hector Yerena said his pallet company had closed at 3:30 p.m. He heard about the fire through a phone call from a neighbor.

"I called one of my workers who lives a few miles away from my place," Yerena said. "He came over to check. ... The Fire Department was already there trying to put the fire out."

Yerena said he lost a building, a couple of cars and forklifts, and an air compressor. "Most of the equipment we had," he said.

Tuesday, he was waiting for an insurance adjuster to get to the site. Yerena said he hopes to reopen in three to four weeks.

The fire, fueled by dry wood pallets, spread rapidly. Turlock Fire Division Chief Tim Lohman said determining the origin and cause of the fire is a little tricky because the blaze was so big when firefighters arrived.

"On a fire that size we were using larger diameter hose lines," said Lohman. "Those take a great deal more strength and energy to manage, and it impacts our firefighters in a way that is very physically challenging.

"Throw in 101-degree heat with the gear that they wear and it has an impact we have to quickly manage."

Lohman said the hot weather came on quickly over the weekend. "We didn't really have time to get acclimated to it."

Ambulance crews from American Medical Response took care of firefighters and prepared them to go back into the fight.

Firefighters managed to keep the blaze from the buses stored at the neighboring Turlock Unified School District yard.

"There was some concern about that early in the fire," Lohman said. "But we were able to contain the fire in the pallet yard to the northern side of the property. The buses and all that were on the other side of the property."

Eight trailers from a trailer repair business were damaged or destroyed by the fire.

Lohman said the incident showed the strength of mutual aid agreements the city department has with its nearby counterparts. Despite budget cuts to most departments, resources remain available.

"Everybody's really adept at how the system works," he said. If nearby departments didn't have enough staffing to help, Turlock would start calling other counties.

"It worked out really well," Lohman said. "Turlock Rural covered the city while our crews were at the fire. We ended up having seven calls they responded to during that time."

Crews from Denair, Keyes and Mountain View districts also came to help.

Lohman said fire agencies helping one another is nothing new, though a recent focus on regionalizing some of the smaller departments is.

"I know there is some concern out there, mainly because of the budget situations and how that impacts each individual department," he said.

State training requirements also are difficult for smaller agencies to meet.

"We're looking at different ways to share some of those resources," Lohman said. "If you look throughout the state, there are a lot of consolidations and contracts between fire agencies. Everyone's learning that process and going through it as well."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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