POPLAR — Aziez Hassan and Gregorio Rodriguez walked through their businesses on Friday, trying to see what items, if any, might be salvageable. Their businesses, Adam's Market and La Potosina Panaderia bakery, respectively, were devoured by a rogue July 9 fire started by electrical wires rubbing against a tree. Lost in the fire was the market and bakery as well as a hair salon, meat market, taqueria eatery, two mobile homes, vehicles, the back apartment of a duplex, with the front one suffering smoke damage, and the roof of a multi-use building at the Larry Itlion Research Center that houses the Central Valley Empowerment Alliance.
As they walked through the ashes, Bernardino Ramirez and his son Arno Ramirez approached the two men with a photo he found lying in the living room of the duplex.
“That's me and that's my son, Arturo Rodriguez as a baby,” he said as he showed the photograph which was untouched by the fire to Hassan and Gregorio Rodriguez. “I found it just laying there on the living room floor. I don't even know how it got there.”
Arturo Rodriguez is the communications and organizing director of CV Empowerment Alliance which was also damaged by the fire.
After reminiscing a few minutes about the photograph, Hassan and Rodriguez continued walking through the ashes. Hassan paused and pointed to several fire extinguishers on the ground he, his cousin Anees Muthana, who he considers a brother because they were raised together, and a staff employee used on the tree.
“We fought hard until the fire was all around us. I wasn't thinking about the danger. I was just trying to beat the (tree) fire to keep it from getting to the store,” said Hassan. “We had seven fire extinguishers and I used them all.”
Hassan said at one point the fire, which started at the electrical wires, made it down to the bottom of the tree and disappeared and he thought he had it under control.
“But then there was a little breeze and the fire returned and burned through the (dry) grass and flames started falling on the roof of the (Larry Itlion Research Center's back) building. Then it came to our buildings. It was fast.”
At one point, when the tree was on fire, Hassan said he was about to open the back gate to the property.
“But I didn't have the keys on me,” he said. “I didn't know at the time the wires were resting on the fencing. Had I touched it, I would not be here today. I would have been (electrocuted.)”
Hassan said all three of them could see the wires sparking in and under the tree.
They were concerned, he said, because once the building caught fire, a large flame could be seen shooting up from a gas line for three hours.
“They (fire department) could not find the gas line to turn it off. Even with maps, they couldn't figure it out. They searched for three hours, making holes in several places. They finally used an xray-like machine and found it,” Hassan said.
As the men entered the market, they looked around for anything salvageable.
“My brother lost everything,” he said looking at the charred building and walls.
He pointed to a large safe where Hassan and Muthana stored receipts, papers of importance and cash.
“We had just opened it. It was full of boxes and folders and we had just gotten the first box out. That's when the wall caved in on the three of us,” Hassan said. “It fell on us as we pulled out the first drawer. We grabbed the box and ran.”
The men burned their hands, arms and face in the fire. And when they looked at the box's contents they were disappointed.
“We grabbed a box full of checkbooks and store receipts,” he said.
As Hassan and Rodriguez walked towards the meat market, a stench hit them and they promptly changed direction.
“It's the meat from the meat market,” Rodriguez said. “It smells horrible. There was a lot of meat there. He had just gotten a big order delivered.”
The men then proceeded towards the bakery where they found racks of what was once fresh donuts and bread, as well as untouched boxes and plastics filled with flour and other baking items.
Rodriguez looked over the bakery's mixers, oven, humidifier and other equipment and found his giant mixers to appear in good condition and definitely salvageable.
“It's something,” Rodriguez said with a smile.