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Fire does $2.5 million in damage to Fresno apartment complex, investigators haven’t ruled out arson

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Jim Guy
The Fresno Bee

Fresno fire officials on Monday did not rule out arson as a cause of a $2.5 million, three-alarm, blaze at the Maplewood complex near Fresno State that destroyed eight units and displaced multiple people.

Deputy Fire Chief Rich Cabral said fighting the blaze, which erupted in two dumpsters at 7:25 p.m. Sunday, put a severe strain on the department. Arriving firefighters discovered no water flowing from the nearest hydrant, parking lots full of students moving in for fall classes and heavy traffic clogging nearby streets, including Shaw Avenue.

“It was very, very, challenging,” he said.

The burning dumpsters, full of combustible waste, were underneath a carport, something no longer allowed in newer complexes, Cabral said. The flames quickly spread from the carport to two adjacent buildings. Fourteen units caught fire — eight were a total loss and three more were damaged. Eight cars were destroyed and two others sustained significant damage.

Cabral said investigators were working to determine how the fire started in the dumpsters. They also want to know why the first hydrant was dry when arriving firefighters connected their hoses to it; that forced them to scramble several hundred feet to find another hydrant. Cabral said hydrants are inspected yearly, and records show the hydrant was functioning when tested in December. He did not rule out vandalism or another reason for the failure of the hydrant.

He added that if there had been another fire in the city when the Maplewood blaze broke out, the city would have been heavily dependent on mutual aid from other agencies. Firefighters poured all the water available on the blaze for two and one-half hours after arriving.

Having sprinklers at the Maplewood complex would have made a significant difference in the damage caused by the fire, added Cabral, who also noted that wood siding on the buildings made the fire more intense.

Maplewood, which was constructed as a large complex for students decades ago, was converted into condominiums with individual owners, he noted. Occupants include students, retired people and other residents. Both the Red Cross and officials at Fresno State are working to aid those who lost their homes. It isn’t known how many were insured for their losses.

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