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Suspicious fires account for 30% of losses in 2 years

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Video of the razing of an abandoned home on Union Road Saturday.


POSTED August 19, 2013 2:41 a.m.

A series of four suspicious fires — including three in one day — at an abandoned house just a block away from the Union Road fire station underscores a growing problem in Manteca: Arson.

Arson fires are nothing new for Manteca. But until recent years they were confined primarily to dumpsters and vegetation fires.

Although fires of suspicious origins rarely account for more than 10 percent of all fires in a given year they are responsible for a much larger chunk of losses. Arson fires have caused more than $1.6 million of the $5.5 million in losses during the past two years.

A rundown of some of the suspicious fires during the past two years include:

• In March playground equipment at McFall School on Hoyt Lane north of Northgate Park was torched by an arsonist. The losses exceeded $60,000. It was the second time in 10 years arsonists hit the playground.

• In late May 2012 a boarded up two-story house in the 1700 block of North Main was destroyed with the loss estimated at $200,000. Arson was suspected in that fire.

• In July 2012 someone tried to burn down the Chili’s Restaurant by starting a fire near the rear door. The damage was placed at $100,000. It could have been higher but a sprinkler system kept the fire in check.

• A 1,600-square-foot outbuilding near Union Road and Lathrop was deliberately touched in November 2012

• Four transport vans parked at East Union High were torched in October 2012. The loss was pegged at $100,000.

• The North Main Street commercial complex that housed Rocko’s Bar and Aki’s Food to Go Grocery among others was completed gutted in an arson fire in June 2011 that started in a dumpsters that was pushed up against the building. Losses topped $1.1 million

• Three different buildings along Moffat Boulevard were hit by arsonists in April and May of 2011 including the 99 Recycling building, a vacant metal commercial building, and the former San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner’s office which actually had two separate fires.

The latest suspicious fires was a series of three in 13 hours on Friday at an abandoned home on Union Road near Wawona Street fire that kept the Manteca Fire Department and assisting agencies busy from the predawn hours to after 8 p.m.

Smoldering fires in multiple structures prompted Fire Chief Kirk Waters to have fire personnel remain on the scene overnight. Then  Saturday morning, a construction firm was brought in to knock the structures down so firefighters could extinguish smoldering embers. There was also a concern some of the larger structures including a silo, posed a safety hazard as they were weakened and in danger of collapse.

Waters said the demolition should reduce the fire risk to nearby homes.

Three different structures were on fire as well as a separate grass area when firefighters responded for the third time on Friday.

While some suspicious fires have been blamed on homeless trying to keep warm in the winter, Waters said it is doubtful homeless are setting the first since they congregate at abandoned buildings to use them as living quarters.

The fact that witnesses said 15 homeless fled during the first fire before dawn on Friday also underscores the fact abandoned buildings are used by homeless as de factor shelters in Manteca.

At least two homeless had been aroused by firefighters and police who kicked in a locked door on an outbuilding where the pair had set up housekeeping complete with a reclaimed mattress and furniture.

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