Fire crews from the Patterson Fire Department arrived just after 1 a.m. Thursday and spent an hour and a half containing the blaze and most of the night mopping up. Division Chief Jeff Breasher was in charge of the response.
“When I arrived on scene, both buildings were fully engulfed,” Breasher said.
He said he initially feared someone was inside, based on previous reports of squatters on the property, but no one was found.
“The first building to the west collapsed within 10 minutes,” he said.
Breasher said a combination of dry wood and incomplete, open buildings created a fast-moving fire. He called the fire suspicious.
“There is no electricity, no natural gas,” Breasher said. “The buildings weren’t occupied, and there are no reports of lightning in the area. All indications are this has a human cause.”
Fire Chief Steve Hall said there had been indications of squatters before, but nearby residents said they had seen fewer recently. Firefighters found evidence of liquor bottles inside the buildings.
At El Solyo Village, 850 N. Second St., a nearby apartment complex for seniors and people with disabilities, residents used garden hoses to hold off a field fire lit by embers from the building fires, according to El Solyo resident Barbara Stephens.
“I heard a swoosh, and it looked like the shape of the flag,” Stephens said, describing the side of one of the buildings. “It was like a wall of fire all at once.”
The fire was so hot that four nearby houses on the 100 block of Ivy Avenue and nine vehicles parked in the road and in driveways across the street were damaged by the heat. Melted windows and plastic bumpers on vehicles could be seen from the street early Thursday. Even one of the fire trucks had a melted mirror as it rested at Highway 33 and Ivy Avenue, Hall said.
The La Paloma condos, which stood at the southwest corner of Highway 33 and Ivy Avenue, were partially built, but construction was at a standstill for more than four years following the downturn in the housing market.
Martin Boone, managing member of Omni Financial, which owns La Paloma, said in April that the company was looking for a joint investor, either a financial or construction firm. Omni previously foreclosed and took ownership of the project in January 2009 because of the financial woes of the original developer, Phoenix Property and Development Holdings.
He said Omni’s investment was nearing $6 million then. Public records show the construction mortgage on the property from Omni to Phoenix was for $12 million.
This week, Boone said Omni Financial had made $6 million in payments on the $12 million total when Phoenix went bankrupt.
He said Omni was getting ready finish the condos when the fire struck.
“A construction firm was going to look at it and give us another proposal,” he said, explaining that earlier proposals had not been viable.
If a construction investor stepped up, he said he would still consider building in the location. But he said the fire made the task more difficult and Omni needed to have the foundations checked.
“We’re still going to go forward,” Boone said. “But it’s going to take someone willing to make an investment.”
• Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187, ext. 31, or email@example.com.