Sirens wailed in a multi-alarm response on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 13, as two businesses and a large storage area were engulfed in flames at the corner of Third and Atchison streets in Riverbank. Plumes of smoke could be seen several miles away, both in Oakdale to the east and Escalon to the northwest.
The fire started in the back of one of the businesses about 8:30 a.m., said officials, however, the cause is still under investigation.
The Vineyard of Grace and Mercy Church sustained some damage but the firefighters were able to stop the fire from totally destroying the building. Adjacent to that, there was smoke, fire and water damage at the Serv-All Liquor store and Vigil Wireless businesses, while firefighters also worked to keep the fire from spreading any farther, with plenty of buildings in close proximity to the scene at the corner of Third and Atchison.
The first crew arriving on scene assessed the situation and immediately called for additional units, including water and manpower, from several area agencies. Among the fire departments responding to the multi-alarm fire were Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District, Modesto Fire, Escalon Fire, Ceres Fire, Oakdale Fire, Oakdale Fire Protection District, Hughson Fire, and Burbank Paradise Fire.
Officials reported that there were a few complications during the fire, with live power lines a concern in the fire zone. A crew from PG&E responded to assist with terminating the power there, and firefighters also had to deal with a wall that collapsed and broke a gas line, which caused a gas leak. PG&E also had to cap that off so the firefighters could continue with the fire suppression efforts.
Oak Valley Hospital District Ambulance was on scene; however, there were no injuries to civilians or firefighters.
The Ceres Fire Department has an arson dog named Chip that they have had for approximately a year and a half that can dig through debris to detect possible causes and any accelerants. Chip was on scene to assist in the fire investigation.
According to Chief Kevin Wise, the firefighters with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District were at the firehouse just down the street and caught the smell of the fire downwind. They were the first units to arrive on the scene Wednesday morning.
The businesses and property owner are insured, said officials. The damage was estimated at approximately, $700,000 in property damage and inventory.
“We were lucky that we had a lot of help,” said Chief Wise. “The guys did a really good job containing the fire.”
Crews reportedly had the fire under control in about an hour, though many personnel remained on scene for several hours to address hot spots and watch for any rekindling of the flames.