Contractor for Clovis Unified sparked 88-acre fire last month

The Fresno BeeJuly 15, 2013 

A contractor for Clovis Unified School District caused a three-alarm fire southeast of Clovis last month that chased several rural residents from their homes and scorched 88 acres, Fresno County Fire Protection District investigators said Monday.

On June 13, the contractors were working on property that will house the district’s future education center at Clinton and Highland avenues when a piece of equipment struck a rock that set nearby grass and brush ablaze, said Eric Watkins, battalion chief of law enforcement with the fire district.

Winds clocked at 12 mph helped the fire spread quickly to the east and southeast toward McKinley and McCall avenues, he said.

Investigators interviewed witnesses, residents and workers. The contractor was Housley Demolition of Visalia, a firm that specializes in excavation, site clearing and preparation for building.

“They were digging and struck cement or some hard rock with a metal object that caused a spark,” Watkins said. “The fire caused a significant threat to structures and they had some evacuations.”

The fire began about 1:30 p.m. on June 13 and firefighters remained at the scene until 9:15 p.m. on June 14 to douse smoldering hot spots and make sure no other fires broke out.

Two buildings were damaged and the loss was $300,000 to structures and $50,000 to contents, fire district reports said.

There were two other fires in that area that day. A debris burning fire — about two hours earlier — scorched some acreage near Shields and Highland avenues. A third fire at McKinley and Greenwood avenues ignited two hours after the Highland Avenue blaze. It damaged about 10 acres and its origin is not known, Watkins said.

Clovis Unified was notified verbally by fire investigators Monday, said Kelly Avants, district spokeswoman.

“We were told our contractor was involved in starting fire and our third party insurance company, that has already been looking into the case, will look at it with the insurance company for our contractor,” she said.

As a condition of working for the district, she said, contractors are bonded.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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