Fire burns thrift shop in Lindsay

By Reggie Ellis

Fire investigators are still unsure what caused the fire that burned down a thrift shop and forced two other businesses to temporarily close on Sept. 19.

&#8220We may never know what caused the fire,” said Battalion Chief Mike Davidson of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Trespassing and metal obstacles might prevent investigators from pinpointing the cause.

At about 4:29 a.m. on Sept. 19, Lindsay fire and police units were dispatched to a structure fire at Elmwood Avenue and Apia Street, where a storage unit for neighboring Rene's Custom Paint and Body Shop was fully engulfed in flames. The fire quickly spread to the rear of the thrift store operated by Lindsay Christian Church at 178 S. Elmwood Ave. Engines from the city of Lindsay and county fire stations 15 and 16 fought the blaze until 6:40 a.m.

Inside the storage facility were classic automobiles waiting to be restored by Rene's, which is known for full restorations and renowned paint jobs for cars, automobiles, boats and motorcycles.

Rene's, 188 S. Elmwood, and Keys Upholstery, 190 S. Elmwood Ave. were both able to open by noon that day, suffering only minor smoke and water damage.

&#8220The storage unit is the only thing that was affected,” said Rene Centeno, owner of Rene's Custom Paint and Body Shop. &#8220A lot of people blew this out of proportion.”

The thrift shop was not so lucky. Paul Leavens, pastor of Lindsay Christian Church, said the thrift shop was a total loss. The entire rear of the building, which included a storage area for the shop, is completely burned and all of the clothing for sale was ruined by heat and smoke. The church will be required to clean out the building, so Leavens is asking for anyone with a truck to take a load or two to the dump. To help, call 562-3743.

&#8220The insurance doesn't agree on the value of the items so we are not sure how much will be covered,” Leavens said.

Leavens said the Thrift Shop has been a vital part of the church and the community as a whole. While about 10% of profits went back to the church, the rest of the money has been used to build 12 apartments for senior citizens on land owned by the church's non-profit organization, Valley Christian Church. The apartments are located on Orange Avenue and Tulare Road, a good neighborhood, considering there are $300,000 homes being built nearby.

&#8220Before the farmers' market we were bringing in $500 to $1,000 per week,” Leavens said. &#8220Instead of going into debt to fund the buildings, we saved up enough to construct each of the apartment buildings.”

Many of the seniors who live in the apartments were or continue to be volunteers at the thrift shop. Leavens said by working and having their own place, many times their health dramatically improved by providing them a stronger self-esteem. The thrift store supplied needy families with an affordable alternative to retail clothing. Those who couldn't even afford the used clothing often received it for free. Thrift stores were also donated for costumes and props for Lindsay Community Theatre Productions.

&#8220We've had people steal things from us when if they would have just asked we probably would have given it to them,” Leavens said.

The good news is that the church is moving the Thrift Shop to a new location at 700 N. Orange Ave. at the corner of Tulare Road. The new building will be the fourth to house the church thrift shop. Because everything was ruined in the fire, the church is looking for donations of clothing, clothing accessories, furniture and Christian books. For more information, call the Lindsay Christian Church at 562-3743.

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