An under-construction apartment building burned to the ground in northeast Visalia late Saturday, shooting embers and heat that damaged neighboring homes, as fire departments from across Tulare County rallied to support the city.
Around 11 p.m., firefighters arrived to find the apartment building on the 1800 block of East Houston Avenue fully engulfed, Visalia Battalion Chief Tom Van Grouw said. Flames rapidly consumed the exposed wooden frames of the structure.
Neighboring homes on Houston were threatened by the massive fire. Several families were evacuated while firefighters worked to defend the inhabited residences.
Amanhy Becerra was among them. She said she heard a “loud boom” from her home on Houston before seeing flames and embers fill the sky.
“We’re concerned because we have dogs who are still inside. We can’t go get them because it isn’t safe to enter,” she said. “We’re praying that they’re ok, and that the smoke or fire doesn’t harm them.”
No injuries had been reported as of 1 a.m. Sunday, Van Grouw said. He added that at least one home and a couple outbuildings to the east were damaged.
A two story structure on the lot, also under construction, was damaged but remained standing. The cost of the damages and burned apartments is not yet known.
A few blocks northwest, on the 1600 block of East Prospect Avenue, just behind Food Maxx, a home was heavily damaged after its roof caught on fire and spread through the attic, Battalion Chief Danny Wristen said.
It’s not clear if the fire was caused by an ember spotting from the larger fire on Houston, he added.
Nick Viramontes was concerned about the wooden shingles on his roof catching fire when he saw flames shooting out of his neighbor’s attic vents, he said. He rushed across the street and pounded on the door, alerting those inside and helping them to safety.
The roof caved in as firefighters battled the house fire, causing heavy damages, Wristen said.
All seven of the city’s engines were deployed to the pair of fires, with help from Tulare County, Tulare city and Farmersville fire departments. A ladder truck and hundreds of feet of hose were used to get enough water and pressure to fight the fires.
Southern California Edison was also called to the scene after a power pole collapsed.
Firefighters expected to work though the night to assess damages and make sure the area is safe.