Concerns grow after fire destroys Merced County business

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Bright orange flames shot into the night sky as crews battled a dangerous blaze at GCR Tires and Service on Brantley near Childs in Merced County on election night.

Cal Fire got a helping hand from the Atwater and Merced city fire departments. They sprayed water from high above the building using an aerial ladder to cool the inferno and protect firefighters on the ground as air compressors in the shop were exploding.

Cal Fire Captain Robert Carvalho says, "That can injure a firefighter easily so when we start hearing explosions, we take precautions. We were fighting defensively and protecting the businesses around the area."

That includes Sergio Del Toro's hydraulics and classic car restoration shop. He was shocked to see the destruction next door, from the smoldering piles of tires all the way up to the melted sign.

Del Toro says, "Oh, I'm looking at the tire shop right now, and I saw the place standing there last night. I came out and looked at it today, and I can't believe it's just gone."

Just six months ago, Del Toro rushed to protect his own business from a wind-driven vegetation fire that damaged a storage facility right next to where the tire shop stood.

He explains, "I went out there with the fire extinguisher and just took care of as much as I could. The smoke got so bad I couldn't stand it anymore even with a mask, I put on my paint mask and I closed the back door and said this is it, this is as far as I can go. I went outside and said it's in God's hands now, whatever's going happen."

Investigators determined that fire was started by a homeless woman, but the cause of Tuesday's fire is under investigation. Del Toro says he's growing more concerned because a few smaller fires have also broken out in this area recently.

He's taking precautions to keep his business safe but says his heart goes out to the owners and employees who lost their livelihood.

"It's just hard to look at the place and see that it's gone," says Del Toro.
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