A fire that started in a storage shed spread to a nearby carport and nearly destroyed an apartment complex.
Four cars were destroyed and residents were forced out of their apartments as the blaze grew.
Firefighters and police were called just before 7 a.m. Wednesday to the 1400 block of Central Street, just east of Mooney Boulevard.
"The whole place was cookin'," firefighters said, adding that the blaze was doused in time to save the complex. It took firefighters about 35 minutes to control the flames.
Firefighters are investigating the incident along with Visalia's Property Crimes Unit. Early evidence suggests a transient was living in the shed. He had installed a screen door and even a door number so people could find his spot, firefighters said.
It's unclear what started the fire, though.
Storage sheds next to the space where the fire started were destroyed along with contents, including audio and visual equipment, purses, clothes and furniture. The sheds were scheduled to be boarded up because of problems with homeless people finding shelter in the cramped spaces, firefighters said.
Witnesses to the blaze described the scene as "chaotic" and "scary" as residents began fleeing their homes. Vanessa Vasquez, who lives across street, said she saved a dog from the blaze after its owner ran out yelling about his dog.
"I just felt like I needed to help. I couldn't stand there and watch as no one did anything until the fire department showed up," she said. "I really hope the community comes together to help these people. Many of them don't have insurance, they probably lost everything."
Firefighters said The Red Cross wasn't called because there was no damage to the apartments. However, utilities were turned off for most of Wednesday morning.
Battalion Chief Darrin Hughes estimated the loss to the residents at $60,000 between their belongings and vehicles. He believes there was $40,000 in damages to the $1.5 million complex.
This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: Visalia firefighters, police investigate apartment storage shed fire