A fire engine happened to be returning from a medical aid call when firefighters noticed a column of smoke coming from the residences. Capt. David Hohl and Richard Taylor of the Patterson Fire Department, who were quickly joined by Division Chief Jeff Breasher, kept the fire at bay until other engines arrived about five minutes later, according to Fire Chief Steve Hall and Hohl.
"It was rippin' huge by the time we got here," Hohl said.
While the fire appeared to start in the porch area where the carport stood in front of 244 I St., Suite B, behind the home facing I Street, the cause of the fire is still under investigation, Hall said. Firefighters had the blaze contained within 55 minutes, he said.
Hohl noted that both suites were ablaze when he and Taylor arrived, and a fence to the west of the homes was on fire as well. The fire only caused slight roof damage and broke the windows of the home just west of those suites, so residents there will not have to evacuate.
On the other hand, residents in 240 I St. Suite B, just east of the porch that initially caught fire, had melted vents and some damage to the attic, though firefighters were able to suppress the attic fire rather quickly, Hall said.
Jorge Guizar, a resident of 244 I St., Suite A, said residents in suites A and B planned to stay at the landlord's home Saturday evening. The residence where he lived had major damage to the kitchen and a back door and window at the rear of the home.
The home behind him, where his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter lived, sustained even greater damage, including the destruction of a flat-screen television and living room set, Guizar said. He noted that he had some furniture sitting in the porch area in front of his daughter's residence, but he did not know how the fire actually started.
The residents in all four of the homes were "extremely lucky" that firefighters happened to be in the right place at the right time to notice the smoke and respond, Hohl said. No one reported the blaze to the fire department, he said.
"All four of (the homes) are very reparable," Hohl said.
A total of 19 firefighters responded to the fire Saturday evening, including both Patterson Fire Department members and Patterson volunteer firefighters, and Turlock Irrigation District had to respond to live wires down, Hall said.
Several neighbors also attempted to fight the blaze by connecting garden hoses and borrowing fire extinguishers from a nearby home and from the nearby Patterson Food Center grocery store, 15-year-old neighbor David Apolinar said.
Hall praised all those who kept the blaze from spreading, giving particular note to the efforts of Hohl and Taylor early on.
"They did a heck of a job holding this off," he said.