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Woman, daughter flee burning home

Malfunctioning water heater may have triggered blaze

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Woman, daughter flee burning home

A burned out 2006 BMW sits in the carport of a home in the 200 block of North Grant. The darkened area seen on the home next door directly above the car's windshield shows damage to the side wall....

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin


POSTED June 5, 2009 2:38 a.m.
An early-morning home fire Thursday in the 200 block of North Grant Street rousted a 40-year-old woman and her sleeping 18-year-old daughter at about 7 a.m.

Theresa Leos told Manteca firefighters she was taking a shower when she heard cracking noises and left the bathroom to check the source.  She was met with smoke and fire at her windows and immediately went running to awaken her daughter Tasha Ruiz.

Her husband Ronnie had already left for work.  She called him immediately after she called 911 and he returned home.

The daughter, a senior at Sierra High School, said her mother yelled at her that the house was on fire and they had to get out.  They fled out the front door wearing only what they had on – in the mom’s case it was only a towel.  Neighbors were there to provide clothing for them both to wear.  Tasha said she remembered to grab her cell phone before running out the door.

A next door neighbor, Sergio Segura, said he was shaving when everything got dark – looking outside he saw nothing but smoke.  Segura told of hearing an explosion that firefighters said was probably from the tires blowing out from the heat on a 2006 BMW that was parked in a carport next to his home – it was completely gutted.

Firemen narrowed the cause to a malfunctioning water heater located outside the home in the carport.  Leos had told firemen the heater was a source of concern in recent weeks.  They moved into the home only two months ago – taking out renters’ insurance just four days ago.

It took about 20 minutes for firefighters to get control of the fire.  

“At one point during the initial stages of the fire, crews had to back out of the structure due to the extreme heat of the fire and attack the fire from the exterior,” Division Chief Randy May said.  After a few minutes firemen reentered the structure and gained control of the fire.

What wasn’t burned was completely covered in black from the smoke and the heat.  

Tasha is scheduled to be graduating from Sierra High tonight.  Her gown was untouched by the fire where it hung in her bedroom closet but she did say it was pretty smoky.  She was hoping to be able to get the gown cleaned and find something she could wear to graduation.

There was concern about the welfare of the family’s two cats – Tiger and Pumpkin – but they turned up safe later in the day.

A small rear house in the yard just to the north also had damage to its siding but the quick work by firemen saved that structure and the larger home to the front of the property.

Fire department spokesman Traig Smith said if the ladder truck hadn’t been dispatched initially with the other engines they would have lost the two houses next door.  “They would have been fully involved,” he said, noting the intensity of the heat from the fire.

He said that when engine-1 first arrived on the scene the fire “was blowing out both sides of the house and the carport.”  Flames were leaping some 15 to 20 feet in the air.  A five-inch supply water line they laid down from a hydrant on North Street was driven over and ruptured by a citizen’s vehicle producing a geyser that could be seen reaching 25 feet into the air above the trees.

The home had three bedrooms with dayroom and bathroom additions. Firemen also located a safe in the home they said continued to be hot to the touch as they attempted to cool it down with water.

A total of 24 firemen – including several reserves – responded to the blaze along with an engine from the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department.  They were on the scene for about five hours – four of that was for cleanup.

May estimated the loss to the building at $122,000 and $60,000 to the contents.  He also noted there were no smoke detectors in the home.

Last month, an apartment complex fire on North Poplar Avenue left one family homeless that didn’t have a place to stay.  The Red Cross came to their aid for three nights putting them up in a motel.  When their time ran out Manteca firefighters from Local 1874 went to their aid and found them another place to stay while their apartment was being restored.

A “Natasha Ruiz Leos Fire Recovery Fund “ has been set up to help the family made homeless by Thursday’s fire get back on their feet.  Those wishing to help may contact Citi-Bank in Manteca.  The account is in the name of Natasha Ruiz and the account number is 40052540545.
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