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Arsonist loose in Manteca?

Two suspicious fires in 6 days destroy buildings

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Arsonist loose in Manteca?

Flame, heavy smoke and three firefighters are silhouetted against the early morning sky Thursday after a fire of suspicious origin destroyed a two-story home in the 1700 block of North Main Street,...

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POSTED June 1, 2012 1:28 a.m.

Two vacant and boarded up structures - the former San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner’s office on Moffat Boulevard Saturday and a North Main house on Thursday - have been destroyed in suspicious fires.

Arson fires, while fairly rare  in Manteca, have historically been confined to dumpsters and deliberately set grass fires along the 120 Bypass. Last year, though, a string of arson fires destroyed three vacant structures along Moffat Boulevard. Also in 2011 a dumpster was set afire and pushed up against the back of a North Main Street retail complex housing Rocko’s Sports Bar and other businesses completely destroying the structure.

Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters said it appears in the Moffat fire that a rear window may have been broken and flammable liquid poured into the structure. The building has been vacant for a number of years.

The house destroyed Thursday has been purchased by Caltrans and is slated for demolition to make room for the new Highway 99-Lathrop Road interchange and approaches starting construction in either late 2013 or early 2014.

Waters is asking people to note suspicious activity around vacant at buildings and to alert police if they believe something is amiss.

Also, anyone with any information involving those responsible for any suspicious fire is asked to call the anonymous South County Crime Stoppers tip line at 823-4636. Information that leads to an arrest makes caller eligible to receive a reward up to $1,000.

Manteca Fire Department’s 100-foot aerial ladder truck wasn’t available Thursday morning when firefighters responded to the intense fire in a two-story structure on North Main Street shortly after 6 a.m.  It had been “browned out” the last few days of the month because of budget constraints that resulted in insufficient staffing to man all four Manteca engine companies with three firefighters.

The crew that would have manned the ladder truck responded in a regular engine and went onto the roof where they attempted to vent the second floor by cutting holes into roof to serve as exhaust ports for the smoke and heat that had built up in the vacant home.   

The loss to the building was estimated at $200,000. The cause was labeled suspicious and is currently under investigation. 

The downstairs windows and doors of the two-story home had been boarded up with plywood; however a grocery basket was located near the structure suggesting a homeless person or persons might have been living in the house.

Firefighters had initially attempted to make an interior offensive attack on the fire without success. Waters added that the extreme heat and smoke were too intense.

“Consequently, firefighters went to a defensive mode and attacked the fire from the exterior to assure their safety,” Waters said. “Firefighters were on the scene for several hours fighting the fire and assuring that it was completely extinguished.”

An emergency callback was initiated and off-duty personnel responded from their homes to staff fire stations and to respond to additional emergencies within the city.

Responding to the scene were three Manteca fire engines, one Lathrop-Manteca engine, two battalion chiefs and one fire chief along with one Manteca District Ambulance assigned to standby and a PG&E truck.

Following the callback of personnel there were a total of 14 career firefighters at the fire and five reserve fire fighters.

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