Metal store

Modesto thrift store fire still under investigation

Firefighters continued Friday morning cleanup work from the Thursday afternoon blaze at the Salvation Army family thrift store and donation center north of McHenry Avenue in Modesto.

The fire broke out and was confined to the metal warehouse. A firewall separated the warehouse from the thrift store in front of the 35,000 square foot building, according to Robert and Richard Simi.

Their father, Ron, built the site in 1981 as the new home of the Simi Floral Supply Center. The Simi family closed the business in 2018, then rented the building in 2019 to the Salvation Army.

The brothers said the thrift store suffered water and smoke damage. Salvation Army Maj. Sylvan Young said Thursday that all donations in the warehouse had been destroyed. This includes clothing, furniture and other household items.

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Firefighters continue their cleanup work Friday morning after Thursday’s fire at the Salvation Army family thrift store and donation center north of McHenry Avenue in Modesto. The fire started in the warehouse and its cause is under investigation. Kevin Valine

No one was injured in the fire.

Modesto Fire Deputy Chief Darin Jesberg said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. He said an estimate of the damage and whether the warehouse could be repaired was not yet available.

Robert Simi said other than the fire that broke out in the warehouse, his family didn’t know much else. The brothers said officials told them it could take a few weeks to determine the cause of the fire. The brothers said they are focused on reopening the thrift store.

The store is filled with aisles of clothes hanging on shelves, shelves filled with books, shoes and other household items. Water was pooled in places on the concrete floor. The store was open at the time of the fire, with vendors out front and a few employees in the warehouse.

The Simi brothers said they were grateful no one was hurt.

Jesberg said about 80 firefighters from multiple agencies responded to the blaze, including those from Manteca, Tracy, Lathrop, Escalon and Ripon. Resources included 23 fire engines and three ladder trucks.

Modesto Battalion Chief Ryan Winton said he expects a fire truck and crew to remain at the thrift store, which is on McHenry and Bangs Avenue, throughout from Friday to make sure no piles of debris burn as the day heats up.

“We’re going to be around throughout the day until we’re able to get it back to the owner,” Winton said.

Winton said the blaze was difficult because firefighters were dealing with a metal warehouse full of wooden pallets, cardboard, clothing, furniture and other household items that burn easily.

Winton said firefighters could not drill holes in the metal roof to help evacuate the fire. But he said firefighters gained access to the blaze through the warehouse doors and by removing some of the warehouse cladding with circular saws.

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Firefighters continue their cleanup work Friday morning after Thursday’s fire at the Salvation Army family thrift store and donation center north of McHenry Avenue in Modesto. The fire started in the warehouse and its cause is under investigation. Kevin Valine

Jesberg said melting the warehouse’s plastic skylights helped, allowing some of the hot gases and smoke to escape.

The fire department’s hazmat team was also on hand to check for water runoff, which is standard procedure in structure fires that require a lot of water.

Salvation Army Disaster Emergency Services fed firefighters on Thursday evening, providing them with 22 pizzas, six cases each of water and Gatorade as well as chips, cookies and peanuts, according to a message Salvation Army Facebook on Modesto.

Ron Simi started his business in 1963 and operated it in several locations. The North McHenry Avenue store was the last. The store was built in 1981, and the brothers said the warehouse was built about a decade later.

The Salvation Army opened its thrift store in April 2019. The site replaced the older, smaller Army store on Yosemite Boulevard.

A Salvation Army official did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday morning regarding the army’s next steps.

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Modesto firefighters clean up Thursday’s blaze at the Salvation Army family thrift store and donation center on North McHenry Avenue in Modesto. The fire started in the warehouse and its cause is under investigation. Modesto Fire Department

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Modesto firefighters clean up Thursday’s blaze at the Salvation Army family thrift store and donation center on North McHenry Avenue in Modesto. The fire started in the warehouse and its cause is under investigation. Modesto Fire Department

This story was originally published June 3, 2022 1:35 p.m.

Lydia Gerike began covering breaking news for the Modesto Bee in February 2021. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and international studies. Lydia has previously worked as a fellow or intern at the Indianapolis Star, Hartford Courant and Oregonian.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general missions for The Modesto Bee. He graduated from San José State University.