MODESTO, Calif. (AP) — Large flames shot from a Modesto apartment building late Thursday where authorities said a suspect was holed up following the shooting deaths of a deputy and a civilian.
Television footage shows flames pouring out of the top of a building around 10 p.m. PDT. Shortly before midnight, fire officials said there were signs that the structure was collapsing.
It was not clear how the fire began, but the Modesto Bee reported that Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson acknowledged that a combination of flash-bang devices and tear gas could have been responsible.
Fire fighters were unable to approach the building and fought the flames using high-pressure hoses, the newspaper said.
The fire started hours after a sheriff's deputy and a civilian were killed when gunfire broke out as authorities tried to serve an eviction notice at a Central California apartment complex, officials said.
The shooting led to a standoff with a suspect at an apartment at the Whispering Woods development in Modesto. Authorities fired flash grenades and tear gas in the area where the shooting occurred.
About 8:45 p.m., six SWAT officers rushed toward the apartment, the Bee reported. Sharp bangs from concussive devices were heard for more than an hour. Officers used loudspeakers to communicate with a man they called "Jimmy" to "pick up the phone." No one came out.
In an interview with KCRA-TV, sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Anthony Bejaran said officers can't determine the suspect's condition.
"We're not sure at this point what actions he's taken and what he might be doing," Bejaran said.
More than 100 law enforcement officers from the Central Valley were at the scene. FBI and SWAT teams surrounded the building and authorities evacuated nearby residents while others remained in their homes.
Officials identified the deputy killed as Robert Paris, who was gunned down when gunfire broke out around 11 a.m., Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said.
The incident began when two Stanislaus County deputies went to the north Modesto home to deliver the notice, said Christianson, who called the incident "another dark day" for law enforcement in California.
"One of my valued members of my team is dead," a distraught Christianson told reporters. "I am overwhelmingly frustrated that we don't have the sufficient resources to protect the community."
Neighbors Yemen Zokari and Steven Gasterlum, who told the Modesto Bee (http://bit.ly/IrZeV6) they live with their baby two doors down from the suspect gunman, said they looked out the window when they heard gunshots Thursday morning.
They said they saw two men lying on the ground, one on his stomach and another on his back closer to the door of the house from where the shots came.
"There was another officer that was kneeling on the side of the house while they were laying there," Zokari said. "I think he was staying out of the way from being shot."
"We just felt so bad. We wanted to do something but you can't. What can you do? It's traumatizing to see them."
Christianson said he believed that his deputies did not return fire.
He said deputy Paris paid the ultimate price while protecting the community.
"This is a tragic day for law enforcement and public safety," said Christianson.
Paris, 53, was a 16-year veteran of the department, Christianson said. he is survived by his parents, a brother and two adult children.
The name of the civilian has not been released.
Authorities told the Bee the suspect is in his mid-40s and may have had military training. Sgt. Anthony Bejaran would not confirm if authorities had been in contact with the suspect.
"There's not much more information I can give out," said Bejaran, a sheriff's spokesman.
The Whispering Woods development opened in 2002 on the site of the former Prescott Estates, which was known for decades as one of the most crime-plagued and substandard housing areas in Modesto, according to the Bee.
The city shut down Prescott Estates, and the property was cleaned and extensively remodeled. Officer Chris Adams, a Modesto police spokesman, said the area isn't as crime-ridden as it was a few years ago.
He said authorities would be at the scene for the long haul, if necessary.
"At this point, it's about containment, keeping the suspect within our perimeter and hoping for a safe and peaceful resolution," Adams said.