Flames destroy store, homes

March 14, 2002|By MARIO RENTERÍA

Staff Writer

NILAND — Fire crews from around the Imperial Valley saved several homes from a fire that claimed three houses and a surplus store.

Fire crews from El Centro, Brawley, Calexico, Calipatria, Centinela State Prison, Holtville, Imperial County, Westmorland, Mexicali, Naval Air Facility El Centro and Niland responded to a blaze at the northeast corner of Highway 111 and Fourth Street in Niland about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Niland Fire Chief Mike Aleksick said the fire started in the electrical panel of Gaston's Cafe, which was being used as a surplus store.


As fire crews arrived the blaze quickly spread to neighboring houses due to strong winds. Aleksick said the National Weather Service stated winds were about 50 mph around that time.

Grace Smith Elementary School was in harm's way, as it was just across the street from burning houses.

What started as a single alarm blaze was quickly upgraded to a fourth alarm, basically calling for assistance from all other fire crews in the Valley.

"We thought we were going to lose all the houses on the block," said Aleksick.

Three houses on the block were destroyed. Two others received some damage to the lawn.

A representative from the American Red Cross said the three homes that burned were abandoned.

About 10 agencies responded to give assistance including, U.S. Border Patrol, the Imperial Irrigation District and The Gas Co. Aleksick said about 53 firefighters were at the scene.

Aleksick praised the help the Niland and Calipatria fire departments received from residents before other fire crews could arrive.

"They were out there pulling hoses, spraying water and really helping us out," he said.

He said the rest of the houses were saved, "because of the quick actions by firefighters and the citizens. It was a good effort by everybody to stop the fire."

Fire crews remained on scene until about 3:30 p.m. Aleksick said Niland and Calipatria crews remained at the scene until about 10:30 p.m.

Aleksick said investigators are certain they pinpointed the cause of the fire but will double-check today.

>> Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3441.

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