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Fire Threatens Landmark
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Oakdale City Fire Department firefighters move in to position to attack the flames shooting out from a detached garage behind a home in the 300 block of South Third Avenue on Thursday, Aug. 20. The fire was contained before it could seriously damage the landmark W.B. Taylor & Sons shop that abuts it from South Yosemite. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Leader

Quick thinking and a crucial decision helped save a landmark Oakdale business from likely going up in flames … and limited the damage caused by a Thursday evening fire in the heart of the city.

Flames and smoke were sent high in the air from the 300 block of South Third Avenue about 6:45 p.m. on Aug. 20, when a fire started in a single car garage directly behind a home.

The way the property is situated, the garage was perilously close to not only the home in front of it on South Third but it also backed up to the W.B. Taylor and Sons shop on South Yosemite Avenue.

Oakdale City Fire Department Captain Dave Peterson credited the foresight of Captain Gary Cortes with making the save.

“He immediately pulled a two-and-a-half inch line,” Peterson said of his fellow firefighter, noting that the line is larger than what would normally be used for a garage fire, when crews would typically use a one-and-three-quarter-inch line.

But given the proximity of the buildings to each other — based on old building code allowances — Cortes opted for the larger line, providing for a quicker, more vigorous attack.

“When they got there, they found a detached garage fully involved,” Peterson explained. “It was also starting to burn the welding shop.”

Oakdale City, Oakdale Rural and Stanislaus Consolidated all had personnel and equipment on the scene.

The fire broke out about 6:45 p.m. and thick black smoke quickly curled up from the building. Flames were shooting high into the early evening sky as the first crews arrived on the scene, while neighbors poured out of houses and apartments in the area and staked out a spot across the street to watch the drama unfold.

Police officers responded to the scene for crowd control and also ushered a couple of people out of the house, then escorted one man back inside briefly in order to get a small lap dog.

A county investigator was later called in to help determine how the blaze started.

“The houses are so old they’re built on the existing property lines,” Peterson noted.

The proximity — and exposure — of the other homes and businesses in the area was one of the reasons the building codes have been revised over the years to allow for setbacks, he added.

Crews were on the scene until about 8:30 p.m. Thursday for the containment and clean up.

“His decision made the difference,” Peterson said of Cortes’ impact on the firefighting effort. “It was quite a save.”