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Blaze causes $400K in damages
Inferno destroys Yorktown Lane residence
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Manteca firefighter Bill Todd gets relief from the heavy smoke in the blaze using an oxygen mask to clear his lungs. - photo by GLENN KAHL
It was a fire that destroyed everything in the Yorktown Lane home of Carlos and Helen Gonzales Tuesday morning and the family that lost it all were quick to praise the action of the Manteca Fire Department and their neighbors.

The inferno that gutted the home caused an estimated $300,000 damage to the structure with a $100,000 loss to the contents, according to Manteca Fire Department Battalion Chief Bob Davis.

Gonzales was still in bed when she smelled smoke at about 8:45 a.m.  Her husband had taken two of their grandchildren to school, and stopped at the Valero service station at Union and Louise avenues  to get his usual morning  cup of coffee.  The Manteca woman was alerted to the fire by the smell of smoke and shouts that someone should get mom out of the house.    

Four fire engines responded to the blaze.  The first company to arrive on the scene in the 1100 block of Yorktown Lane requested a callback of all off-duty firemen and reserve personnel.  Neighbors said firefighters were driving up their street within a matter of minutes after they were called.

Two workmen from the Eagle Emergency and Full Service Fire Restoration, Luis Castillo and Clark Lantzy, were repairing the next door neighbor’s home for the wind damage it had received from the recent storm.  They said they saw the smoke coming from the garage about the same time John McDaniel heard his girlfriend Kimberly Bookers’ scream from inside the house.  He had been sleeping in a tent behind the home, and she had gone into the home to use the bathroom.

McDaniel said he ran for the house as the two workers called 911 on a cell phone from next door.  It was ironic that those workmen were on Yorktown Lane Tuesday as they had actually been scheduled to do the job the day before.

Clark recalled there were five or six people who had apparently evacuated out to the front lawn of the residence.  He confirmed that firemen were there within a minute and a half of his phone call for help. He said he had just grabbed insulation to take up into the attic when he heard a scream, looked out a window,  and saw smoke billowing out of the front door as well as from the garage.

McDaniel said he ran to the front of the house where he saw smoke coming from the garage.  He picked up a garden hose from the front lawn, and dragged it through the house entering the smoke-filled garage.  McDaniel found fire near the water heater that he tried to extinguish with a blanket, but then noticed fire erupting in the cab of an S-10 pickup truck parked in the garage.

He quickly realized it was too much for him to fight with a garden hose, and he fled the home reportedly sustaining two third-degree burns to his right arm along with lesser burns to his hands.  Medics treated his arm at the scene, but he refused further medical attention.

At the onset of the fire neighbor Pam Ginnossa ran from her home to find her neighbor Helen Gonzales – who had fled the burning house – standing by the corner of her front fence.  Knowing she had been ill, she grabbed a blanket and put it around her friend taking her back to a chair in her garage.

Ginnossa took control of supporting her next-door neighbors and reacted to their every need for the duration of the fire and cleanup.

Also aware that Gonzales is usually hooked up to a portable oxygen tank, Ginnossa went into her home and brought out one that is normally used by her husband, helping her put it on.  Other neighbors were quick to bring clothing for the couple, and for their family members.  Ginnossa said the fire department was “phenomenal” being there in what seemed like seconds.

She showed her deep appreciation by putting out a case of bottled water on the curb for the firefighters.  But, she said, they were so busy they didn’t have time to drink it right away.

Black smoke from the fire could be seen from as far away as Ripon to the south as firemen fought the blaze and made sure no one was left in the house.  A trembling pet pit bull, “Red,” was one of the first to flee the home along with cats that had been in the garage.  There had also been an iguana tank with a live iguana in the garage, the couple said.

There were oxygen canisters in the woman’s bedroom as well as in the garage where firefighters said they could hear them popping off.  Firemen were hampered from entering the home by the heavy smoke that created a mushroom cloud hundreds of feet in the air.

Several firemen were affected by the smoke and the heat, but they recovered quickly after they took brief time-outs.  Paramedic Carrie Bairos checked each of them out taking their blood pressures as a precaution and giving them towels wet down with bottled water.

During the course of the fire three other engines manned with reserve personnel, and callback firefighters were dispatched to medical calls within the city.  Four engines at the scene obviously were not available for any calls.

Gonzales said all of her medical prescriptions were lost in the fire, and she was afraid that her insurance wouldn’t pay for them to be refilled.  A Manteca Police department chaplain was on hand to console the couple as they sat in their neighbor’s garage.

Firefighters retrieved her purse from the burned-out house with her neighbor taking it and washing off the soot, and giving it back to her.
The Gonzales couple had nothing but good things to say of their neighbors of some 13 years who were there for them Tuesday morning.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday firefighters were dispatched to another structure fire at 140 West Oak Street.  A small fire in a shed behind a residence was quickly extinguished before it could spread to the house, firemen said.  Oak Street has been the scene of several arson-suspected fires during the last year.