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Collegeville Fire Burns Out Families
Several families were burned out of their homes in a Thursday morning fire, April 16 in Collegeville, apparently sparked by a faulty water heater.

There were no injuries but five connected housing units in what was a former labor camp were destroyed in the multi-alarm blaze. One end unit was not a total loss but had severe smoke, heat and water damage.

Collegeville Fire Chief Dennis Faist said when the first crews arrived on the scene of the morning fire, they quickly called for additional water tenders and manpower to the 5100 block of South Kaiser Road.

Housing units 5137, 5143, 5149, 5155 and 5161 were impacted, with 5161 the only one that was not totally gutted. Part of the problem in fighting the blaze was that all five units shared a common attic, said Faist, with the fire spreading rapidly.

Everyone got out safely but most only had time to get out, unable to salvage very few of their possessions. American Red Cross disaster workers were quickly on the scene and helped assess the immediate needs of the displaced families, providing them with vouchers for food, lodging and clothes.

"We had a real good mutual aid response," Faist said, noting that the county system worked well, with water tenders from several departments providing an adequate supply of water to fight the flames.

In addition to Collegeville firefighters, equipment and manpower was brought in from Farmington, Escalon, Linden, Ripon, Waterloo-Morada and Montezuma.

Crews effectively contained the blaze to the one building, though there were multiple other housing units surrounding it. Faist said the report on the cause of the blaze isn't final, but the initial investigation led authorities to suspect the faulty water heater.

San Joaquin County American Red Cross Chapter Executive Director Janine Brown said six Red Cross volunteers responded to the scene to assist.

"We are in the process of meeting with every family, seeing what resources are available," she said at the scene on Thursday morning. "We make a plan to make sure they have a place to stay tonight."

Beyond that, the Red Cross helps secure emergency temporary housing for those that can't find shelter with family or friends.

"We have agreements with schools and churches," Brown said of those times when an emergency shelter is needed.

The Collegeville fire was the largest one the Red Cross has responded to in the past few months, she added.

"A lot of people out there think we're government funded," Brown explained. "But it's all donations."

Faist said the fire drew on multiple resources from the area and crews did a good job containing the blaze. It took several hours to mop up at the scene. There were no injuries, he said, which also was a huge relief considering the number of families with young children living in the units.

Additional investigation is being done, Faist said, into whether there were code violations at the property, which is reportedly owned by a Bay Area resident.

Red Cross counts on local residents to help finance disaster response efforts and a fire like the one in Collegeville can quickly deplete the coffers. Donations may be made to American Red Cross, 1550 West Fremont St., Second Floor, Stockton CA 95203.