Apartment Fire Leaves 20 Without Homes

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MODESTO-

There are 20 people without a home after an early morning fire ripped through a Modesto apartment complex Saturday.

While the Modesto Fire Department says the official cause of the fire is still under investigation, neighbors tell FOX40 it's a case of arson.

"I mean I don't have no house, what are we supposed to do," Linda Gunkel, whose apartment was a complete loss, asked.

What's more frustrating for Gunkel and her father, Gary Gunkel, is they said the blaze was intentionally set by a transient woman who was targeting one of their downstairs neighbors.

"[The transient woman and the tenant] got in an argument, [and she] went into his bedroom locked the door and [set] the closet on fire," said Gary Gunkel, who shared the apartment with his daughter.

Gary Gunkel said the rumor from his neighbors is the tenant met the transient woman at a bus stop, and brought her to the complex to help her do laundry.

But after her clothes were washed and wet, the two couldn't afford to dry them.

That's when she apparently tried drying them over his stove.

"He said hey no no no, you can't do that. And they got in a big old fight," Gary Gunkel said.

The Modesto Fire Department can not confirm the rumors, and told FOX40 the cause is still under investigation by their agency as well as the Modesto Police Department.

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But when fire crews arrived just before 5:30 Saturday morning, the department said two people had already jumped off the second story balcony, and two elderly women were stuck upstairs.

"[The two women] barricaded themselves in the bathroom to buy themselves some fresh air time. And as we were rescuing them, those bathroom doors were failing, so it was just a matter of seconds before it had a very negative outcome," said Battalion Chief Hugo Patino with the Modesto Fire Department.

Linda Gunkel said one of her neighbors lost 3 dogs in the fire, all presumed dead.

She believes none of this should have ever happened and blames her neighbor as much as the suspect.

"That goes to show don't pick nobody off the street you don't know, because you don't know what they're going to do!" Linda Gunkel told FOX40.

Hugo said the two people who had to jump from the balcony were taken to the hospital, one spraining an ankle, while the other had a broken hip.

Hugo estimates the structural damage to the building at about $500,000, but he said that does not include personal property the tenants lost inside those apartments.

The American Red Cross is helping all those displaced by the fire stay in a motel.

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