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15 homeless flee arson fire

Three fires in 13 hours at Union Road home

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15 homeless flee arson fire

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POSTED August 17, 2013 1:52 a.m.

Three suspected arson fires in a 13-hour period at an abandoned home on Union Road near Wawona Street fire kept the Manteca Fire Department and assisting agencies busy from the predawn hours to after 8 p.m. Friday.

Four fires have taken place since mid-June at the abandoned home and adjoining property that has buildings including an old grain silo.

Neighbors said they witnessed about 15 homeless people flee the premises when a grass fire erupted shortly after 4 a.m. The front house and outbuildings on the rear of the nearly one acre “Gordon” property were involved. The home has been vacant for a number of years.

The 100-foot-ladder aerial truck was set up on Suess Court to protect the adjacent homes from flying embers by putting up a defensive water curtain.  Police officers evacuated three transients from several of the outbuildings at the rear of the property.

Battalion Chief Bob Davis said the cause and contributing factors of the first fire stemmed from the scene being an uncared for plot of land being occupied by transients.  A fire break had recently been cut in the grass around the perimeter of the property to prevent any future fire from spreading into adjacent neighborhoods.

A second fire call came into dispatch about 2 p.m., and after that was controlled, another two-alarm blaze broke out at about 5 p.m.  First responding engines were met with heavy black smoke that leveled a 60- by 60-foot redwood hay barn and five to six out-buildings on the back of the property.

A neighbor who once owned the property as part of an 80-acre ranch said the transients had stolen all the redwood they could reach from the ground believing the black smoke may have been caused by burning tires.  Fire crews responded from Lathrop-Manteca and Ripon Fire departments when the second alarm sounded.

The neighbors said the transients had been jumping their fence to take advantage of the tomatoes and squash they had been growing in their back yard.  They recalled hearing some four explosions as the afternoon fire broke out.

An old 60-foot-high grain silo was also burned.  The metal straps keeping it together had apparently been stolen for their recycling value.  The property owners were warned of the danger that the silo could collapse as they were advancing on the blaze.  The outbuildings had originally been used on the ranch generations ago for various things including a pump house.

Fire Chief Kirk Waters said there were multiple fires when his first crew arrived at the scene.  Flames were coming from the front house and the back sheds, he said.  Waters added that his personnel did a search through all the buildings looking for anyone that had been caught in the inferno.

“The big thing on a fire like this is the accountability of firefighters – keeping everybody safe when you have so many personnel.  We had one firefighter suffer heat exhaustion.  He was treated by medics on the scene,” the chief said.  He added that one Ripon rescue vehicle had responded with the ability to refill the air tanks for fire fighters.

Battalion Chief David Marques said that before the report of the Union Road fire, all available units had been dispatched to a structure fire at Alba and Vera streets in the southeastern part of the city.  It turned out to be only an air condition unit malfunctioning, he said.

One unit was pulled away to a call at Sierra High School where four athletes had reportedly been injured on the field at which time a citizen reported plumes of black smoke on Union Road.

“There was a significant delay in fighting that fire because of a lack of resources and we had to call a second alarm,” he said.  “Pretty much all we did was to protect the exposures of the neighbors’ properties, as the fire had spread to several back yards from burning embers.”

Chief Waters ruled out the possibility that any of the fires had rekindled causing secondary blazes.  He said he was keeping a fire company on the site throughout the night Friday.  One neighbor said there had been numerous fires on the property over the last five years.

Waters also confirmed that the explosions were not from any methamphetamine lab on the site per their investigation.

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