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Man escapes mobile home inferno

Fire destroys El Rancho home; smoke visible from Ripon

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Man escapes mobile home inferno

Firefighters pull off siding of mobile home destroyed by fire Wednesday afternoon in the El Rancho Mobile Home Park.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED March 22, 2012 1:13 a.m.

Flames and smoke reached hundreds of feet into the sky Thursday afternoon from a totally engulfed residence in the El Rancho Mobile Home Park located next to the Highway 99 and Yosemite Avenue interchange.

A column of black smoke fueled by the plastic construction and contents of the Ray Vargas home could be seen as far away as downtown Ripon.  Firefighters said the mobile home was completely engulfed when they arrived forcing them to focus their efforts on defending the two adjacent homes from catching fire.

Vargas said he had been in the bathroom when the fire broke out.  As he entered the kitchen he smelled smoke and recalled seeing smoke coming out of the oven.  He quickly bolted out the door and called 911, he said.  Within several minutes the smoke thickened and the windows blew out with shooting flames following.

Next door neighbors Don and Vera Smith were at home.  Mrs. Smith said she was lying down taking a nap and her husband was watching a game show on the television.  She said she woke up to see the flames breaking through the windows and alerted her husband who ran to get their 1963 Chrysler New Yorker out of the car port.  He drove it away from the fire through the heavy smoke to a place of safety.

Her first thought was that her hair wasn’t combed to be going outside.  On second thought she said she wasn’t going to be worried about the hair – she was frightened by the flames.

As fire engines pulled into the southwestern most section of the mobile home park, a neighbor offered Smith a chair where she watched firemen at work, all the time worrying about her pet cockatiel “Buddy” who was still in his cage in their home.  She said he had to be frightened by the fire and by being alone.

After firefighters had the flames and smoke die down the neighbor retrieved the bird and brought him cage and all to her.  Every morning when she gets up for the day the bird greets her with: “Good morning – you are my buddy.”  She says she always responds with: “You’re my buddy,” and he lets go with a wolf whistle.

Another retired neighbor, Sam Whiteley,  who had been on his way out the front gate to go to the gym across Yosemite Avenue said someone yelled “fire” to him and he saw the plume of black smoke coming from an area at the back of the park near his home.

He said he sprinted back toward his mobile home and saw the flames shooting out his neighbor’s windows as he rounded the park roadway. The blaze was only four units away from his residence.

Whiteley later made contact with the owner of the gutted mobile home and offered him a room to stay with him and to eat there as his guest until he could get back on his feet.

Other neighbors also showed their concern noting that the man’s wife had passed away last year adding that he had been working on the place making improvements and keeping himself busy.

Firemen wanted to back his mini-van out from his carport, but he told them he didn’t have the keys.  They were on the coffee table in the living room – good luck on finding them, he said.

Vargas called his State Farm Insurance representative on his cell phone and was told to come down and pick up a check to get him through the initial part of his loss.  A grandson arrived to drive him into town to get the funds.

One firefighter noted that a mobile home fire is a challenge because of the amount of plastics used in the construction of the building as well as in the contents of the residence.   

Firefighters were called to the scene from Manteca, Lathrop-Manteca and from the Sharpe Defense Depot in Lathrop.  An all-call brought reserves and off duty firemen from home to man the stations for any additional emergency calls within the city.

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