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Son's memorial lost in fire
Location was scene of 2003 killing
When the building that was once Castillo’s Auto Repair on West Orange Avenue went up in flames Monday afternoon, so did a part of the Martinez family.
It was at 335 W. Orange Ave. that 25-year-old Frank C. Martinez was brutally murdered by gang members on April 8, 2003. The family had placed a memorial on the outside of the building and that memorial was destroyed in Monday’s big fire.
Monday’s blaze broke out about 4:10 p.m. and by the time firefighters got there, the small, vacant, shop was totally involved in flames.
Fire officials say the cause of the fire is suspicious.
“The back of the building was unsecured and we know people had been in and out of there,” said Capt. Mitch Sandoval, fire investigator for the City of Porterville Fire Department.
He said the fire appears to have begun in the middle of the building, about where one of the repair stalls was located, and then quickly spread throughout the building. He said because of where the fire started, and because there was no gas service to the building and they believe no electricity, the fire is “suspicious.”
He added the damage was too extensive to determine if there had been a warming fire lit in the building. The structure was completely destroyed with the front walls and roof collapsed.
It took firefighters more than an hour to control the fire that continued to send flames in the air for more than 30 minutes. A lack of water pressure, a nearby apartment building and live electrical wires hindered fire fighting efforts.
Once the power was turned off, firefighters used Compressed Air Foam to douse the final flames. “It (foam) soaks into the wood and pouts out the tough spots,” said Sandoval.
Firefighters saved the next door apartment complex that was just a few feet away from the old auto shop. Firefighters kept a steady stream of water on that structure.
Interim Fire Chief Glenn Irish said he was aware of a fire behind the building earlier this year, a fire that was also suspicious in origin.
The Martinez family had hoped their memorial survived the fire, but it appears it did not.
Sandoval said it could be intact but under the front wall that collapsed outward.
Emelina Martinez, Frank Martinez’ sister, said her mother visited the site Monday afternoon.
She explained her mother visits the site often on holidays and went by to add new flowers and clean it up.
The family does not plan on replacing the memorial, but is saddened by its loss.
“For me, I can tell you, I got very emotional,” she said of when she heard of the fire. She and her mother both went to the site to see if the memorial could be saved, but the fire was far too ferocious.
“Mom is considering a tree of life,” said Emelina of how they might continue some form of a memorial to her son. But, she added, that the tree would not have to be planted at that site.
Frank Martinez was outside that spot at 9:30 p.m. on April 8, 2003 when four gang members approached him and began beating him. One of the men, Manuel Martinez, 27 of Porterville, then pulled out a shotgun and fatally shot Frank Martinez three times.
Frank Martinez was a former gang member who was targeted that day by gang members who felt he was associated with Nortenos. The four men tried and convicted in the killing were all Surenos.
The killing led Frank Martinez’ mother, Mary Martinez, to form Mothers Against Gang Violence which has seen a resurgence recently. She has worked to stop the violence, yet continues to mourn the loss of her son. Every year the family would visit the memorial on the anniversary of his death.