A young child playing with matches is being blamed for a two-alarm fire at the Scottsmen Apartments in southwest Clovis Tuesday afternoon that damaged or destroyed 13 apartments, causing $1 million in damage, fire officials said.
Firefighters from Clovis, Fresno and Fresno County responded to the fire, which was reported at 2:42 p.m. at the apartment at Willow and Gettysburg avenues. The fire displaced 40 people, Clovis Fire Chief Michael Despain said. No one was injured.
When firefighters arrived, Despain said, the building was so engulfed in flames that all fire crews could do was try to prevent it from spreading.
Despain said the child who started the fire was younger than 12, but he declined to say if the child was a boy or girl, or precisely how old the child was. He said a delay in reporting the blaze may have contributed to its spread.
Eight apartments were destroyed, and another five were damaged, he said. Five more apartments that were not damaged were evacuated because the power was turned off.
Standing across from his apartment, Bryan White pointed to a San Jose Sharks sticker in an apartment window and said he and his fiancée and had just moved in from the Bay Area city on Sunday.
"I got home from grocery shopping, went out the back gate of the apartment, and saw fire coming out of my neighbor's sliding glass door," White said. "I grabbed my fiancée and ran and called 911."
White said fire was coming out of the roof by the time firefighters arrived and smoke billowed up to the Valley sky already hazy from the Aspen fire near Huntington Lake.
Akiko Miyake-Stoner said she was searching for her cat as she walked around the complex and surveyed the damage to her apartment.
She said she learned about the fire when a friend sent her a text to ask if she was OK. She arrived to find her apartment ruined with a huge hole in the roof.
"I am glad I was here to find out because I leave tomorrow for church summer camp, unless that gets canceled by the (Aspen) wildfire," said Miyake-Stoner, a minister for the United Japanese Christian Church. "My church has a rummage sale on Saturday that I'll probably be going to now to start over."
Fire crews were expected to take a closer look at the damage Tuesday night to determine what personal property can be salvaged. The American Red Cross arrived to offer assistance to displaced residents.