Many people who saw heavy smoke over the Punjab Plaza shopping center west of Highway 99 Wednesday morning thought a bunch of businesses were going up in smoke. Instead, a small house behind the plaza was burning, sending a large column of black smoke seen for miles away.
Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Randy Wheeler rolled up to the area in response to the 10:51 a.m. 911 call and thought the small shopping center on Central Avenue at Pine Street was on fire when he rolled on scene. However, the smoke was pouring out of a home on the other side of the block wall that separates the commercial center from residences.
Piles of debris in the yard also caught on fire and had to be extinguished.
Firefighters from Ceres, Modesto and Stanislaus Consolidated fire departments made quick of knocking down the flames at 2019 Walnut Avenue and protecting nearby structures. Ceres police officers evacuated neighboring residents and power was shut off to the lot.
Wheeler said he believed the home - located behind a house that fronts Walnut Avenue - was boarded up and that nobody had been living there. No cause has been determined.
Damage to the structure was significant.