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Manteca fiddles while abandoned buildings burn

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POSTED July 27, 2017 12:37 a.m.

Is Manteca burning?
That is not a rhetorical question.
Earlier Tuesday morning the second structure fire in as many months that authorities believe are tied into the homeless burned an abandoned home on Lincoln Avenue to the ground. The early morning fire wasn’t detected until it was fully involved and created a serious threat to nearby apartments.
Firefighters indicated they had been called to the location regarding previous incidents involving the homeless.
Last month a shuttered used car sales lot office in the 300 block of East Yosemite Avenue in downtown burned for the third time. The first fire involved homeless who were sleeping in the building that started a fire to stay warm that got out of control. In the first two instances firefighters were able to respond in time to minimize fire damages. The last time it was much more extensive.
These are not isolated incidents.
A few years back Moffat Boulevard was plagued by a series of fires in shuttered buildings where homeless were known to bed down. In one blaze, freighters conducted a high risk search given general knowledge that a number of homeless slept in the building. The buildings in question have since been razed. This, however, is not the right way to eliminate blight and pursue urban renewal. It not only puts firefighters at greater risk but it places nearby residents and property at risk as well.
Other buildings around Manteca are believed to have been destroyed by homeless who either started cooking or warming fires. The Gordon property on Union Road that was finally abated, the former Sunnyvalley Meats plant east of Cabral Motors on West Yosemite Avenue, and the Sycamore Arms boarding house in downtown Manteca are three prime examples.
In instances where the building isn’t completely destroyed, the stage is set for repeat fires and increased chances for serious injuries, death and destruction of other property. The Lincoln Avenue house is such an example.
 Sycamore Arms is especially dicey as it is part of a city block where buildings abut. A number were built 80 years ago when fire code building standards were a lot less restrictive.
Manteca’s elected leaders should take note and do something. People shouldn’t have to worry that one night a fire in an abandoned house gets out of control and imperils their lives and those of loved ones that have had the misfortune of living next door to property that the city has done little if anything to abate.
As for downtown, Manteca can ill afford another fire in the Sycamore Arms. It is also clear the property owners can’t afford to do anything with the property. It’s a lose-lose-lose for Manteca. The Sycamore Arms can return to its “Homeless Hilton” status at any time, another fire could wipe out other businesses, and the eyesore is dragging down efforts to pump new life into parts of downtown.
The City Council needs to be proactive today, and not 10 years from now.
It is clear there are structures in town that can qualify as threats to public safety and health. Manteca needs to deal with them. If they don’t have the right laws on the books, they need to be added. And if they exist — or after they are adopted — they need to be enforced.
Manteca was incorporated nearly 100 years ago. Citizens created a city for things they couldn’t provide on their own. That includes police and fire protection.
Just like crime prevention is the most effective way to deter crime, so is taking steps to abate known fire hazards is an effective way to reduce the potential for deadly fires.

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