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Weekend Fires Burn Out Families
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A pair of weekend fires stretched the resources of the Escalon Fire Department, with crews not even back in service from one major structure fire before being toned out for another.

The first call came in shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31.

"The initial report was heavy smoke showing and when they arrived, there was a lot of fire in a rear bathroom," Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said of the call in the 22000 block of Burwood Road, off River Road. "Within two minutes of their arrival, there was active fire in the attic."

No one was home at the time but the single story home, estimated between 3000 and 3,500 square feet, was being occupied by a five-member family. Damage was extensive.

"Some of the contents were saved but the house had heavy smoke, heat and water damage throughout," Mello said.

Another family member nearby heard the burglar alarm going off and went to investigate, said Mello, discovering the smoke and fire.

Escalon crews called in mutual aid from a number of departments, with water tenders from Oakdale Rural and Salida, an engine and rescue from Ripon and an engine from Stanislaus Consolidated, in addition to a rescue and Type 1 engine from the City of Modesto.

"Farmington covered our station," Mello said.

Escalon had five pieces of equipment and nine firefighters on scene, with close to 30 personnel total responding from the various agencies.

"Initially they were making an interior attack," Mello added of the firefighting effort. "But it was so hot they couldn't stay inside any longer. Then we got a partial roof collapse and we had to pull everyone out, do an exterior attack."

Crews had knocked down the flames and were doing mop up when the second fire of the night was reported, this one in town, with a structure fire reported in the 1100 block of Stanislaus Street. The call came in about 1:20 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 1.

Some firefighters left the Burwood Road scene to respond to the Stanislaus call.

"When Engine 1-4 arrived on scene, there was heavy smoke and fire from the attic," Mello said. "As they were setting up, the intense smoke and heat produced a flashover, the flames came out through the front door."

Crews were able to ventilate the roof and "did a pretty quick knock down" of the flames, Mello said, but damage again was extensive.

All family members living at the home escaped safely, alerted to the fire by police officers knocking on the door. Police had received a call about the possible fire in the area and responded as well.

"The Red Cross was called," Mello said, noting that the family of three needed assistance in securing a place to stay for the night.

The family on Burwood opted to stay with family members nearby.

Mutual aid for the Stanislaus fire came from Ripon and Stanislaus Consolidated, while Farmington crews again stayed at the Escalon station to provide coverage.

"They're great about that, wiling to come in and cover," Mello said, noting that Farmington firefighters are very familiar with the Escalon territory.

Escalon Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro is handling the investigation into both fires.

"The fire on Burwood is still under investigation, it appears to be an accidental cause, started in the home and spread to the attic," Pinheiro said. "The home and contents are a near total loss."

On Stanislaus, Pinheiro said it appears as though the fire originated in a tent that had been erected on the side of the house.

"The house is structurally repairable but the fire pretty much destroyed everything," noted Pinheiro.

Escalon had 10 firefighters on scene at the Stanislaus incident, there were 20 total counting the mutual aid responders.

Crews were finally back in service from both fires early Sunday morning.

Mello said it's unusual to get such significant calls back to back, with major structure fires both in the rural area and in town so close together.

"I'll be doing this 22 years in January and I've never before experienced being on one fire and not being finished with it before you go to another major one," Mello said.