Almost two and half years after a fire destroyed the EQUIP Church of Turlock building on Columbia Street, neighbors are still left with a visual reminder of the tragedy.
A total of eight fire agencies and 45 firefighters were called in to help with the structure fire that was reported at 4:38 a.m. Aug. 28, 2015, by someone who saw flames coming from the basement of the church.
While the fire displaced the 50 families who belonged to EUIP Church of Turlock and Off the Hook Ministries, a non-profit ran by the pastor’s wife, no one was injured in the fire as the church was empty at that time of day.
The church met for a time at Columbia Park, then found a new home on West Olive Avenue, before closing in August of this year.
On the corner of Columbia and Orange streets, however, concrete steps that used to lead to the church door now front a sunken pit of scorched debris, with only temporary chain link fencing standing between passersby and the hazardous materials within.
The City of Turlock is now taking steps to remedy the safety hazard — and neighborhood eyesore — as the City Council approved on Tuesday funding the demolition and leveling of the property.
“This property was destroyed by a fire in August 2015, consequently, multiple issues have arisen since that time, requiring us to request funds to resolve many nuisances present at this property and alleviate the many … residents’ concerns that have developed,” said Fire Marshal Mark Gomez.
Gomez said there have been 61 calls to the City’s fire and police departments to this property since the 2015 fire. He said that doesn’t include the daily visits from public safety patrols and City workers to look over the site.
Stephanie Zuniga and her family have lived across the street from the former church site for the past 17 years. She was glad to learn of the City’s decision to clean up the property.
“It’s so ugly and it makes the street look really bad,” she said.
The City Council had a special meeting on Tuesday at the site of the fire-destroyed building before voting on the appropriation of $125,000 for the demolition and cleanup of the Columbia Street property.
The City of Turlock is having to foot the bill for the cleanup, as the legal owner of the property remains unclear.
EQUIP Church was renting the building, not the property owner. A search performed by City staff found that Pentecostal Pathfinders was the listed property owner. When the City sent a notice of a Nuisance Complaint to Pentecostal Pathfinders, it was returned unopened. Further research found that Pentecostal Pathfinders was a defunct organization with no individual listed as owner.
As the search for the legal owner of the property continues, the City has placed a lien on the property for the amount of cleanup, which includes a hazardous waste demolition and the infill of the site with clean soil before leveling.
The demolition of the site could begin within the next 30 days, according to Gomez.