House fire in west Modesto kills one person, displaces others

An 85-year-old Modesto woman was killed early Monday after she re-entered a burning house to try and save her dog.

Two adults and three children managed to escape the blaze, which destroyed the west Modesto home.

The fire broke out about 5:30 a.m. on Hilltop Lane, an unincorporated area just off Paradise Road and a few blocks west of South Carpenter Road. Firefighters from five agencies responded, but said the small three-bedroom house was fully engulfed when they arrived.

Fire officials said that tragedy could have been averted.

"Once you're out (of a fire) you stay out, even for your favorite pet or toy," said Modesto fire Battalion Chief Hugo Patino. "Conditions change rapidly in a structure fire. The smoke is so toxic with all the synthetics we have in our homes that that a couple of whiffs will put you down, and then not much more and you're dead.

"I know our pets and loved ones are dear to us but you just can't go back in."

Witnesses said the woman ran back into the burning home to rescue her dog, but did not re-emerge.

"I got up and my whole kitchen was lit up," said next-door neighbor Margaret Avid. "Somebody hollered, 'Get out of your house, it's going to explode,' so I ran out."

Firefighters from the Burbank-Paradise, Westport, Ceres, Woodland Avenue and Stanislaus Consolidated departments confined the blaze to the house at 1126 Hilltop and one car parked behind it. They were still on the scene in early afternoon.

The victim's identity was withheld pending notification of next of kin. The Stanislaus County coroner's office said an autopsy will be conducted this week.

Officials could not say how the fire started. The Modesto Fire Department will lead the investigation.

The 1,330-square-foot home, built in 1950, was owned by Ronnie Schultz of Modesto. He said the victim had lived in the house for about 18 months. He said the other residents were his daughter, her boyfiend and his three children. The victim was aquainted with the boyfriend.

The home was a complete loss. The building was assessed at about $37,000, according to property tax records. No damage estimate was available for the contents.

The American Red Cross Stanislaus County Chapter was helping the five people displaced by the fire. They will be provided with emergency lodging at a local hotel, food and clothing.

It is the first fatal fire in Modesto since May 2009.

Bee photographer Brian Ramsay can be reached at or 578-2280. Follow him at

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