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Losses put at $270,000 at Canterbury address
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Firefighters equipped with oxygen tanks are seen at a home fire in the 700 block of Canterbury Way early Wednesday afternoon. The fire started in the garage but the attic and interior of the home also sustained damage from smoke and flames. - photo by GLENN KAHL

A serious assault with garden hoses on an explosive garage fire by a home owner and his neighbor in a bid to save a residence in the 700 block of Canterbury Way failed despite the courage the two men demonstrated just before 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

Neighbors some two houses to the north and across the street said they witnessed smoke billowing out of the garage that was followed by flames. They called 911 before running to do whatever they could to help.  

Homeowner Enrique Rodriguez who had been standing in his front yard instinctively grabbed his garden hose and trained it on the fire as neighbor Bob Martinez ran toward his friend’s home with a running water hose in his hands.  Martinez’ wife Kathryn was the first to notice smoke coming from the garage and called out to her husband.

Another neighbor across the street, Jared Tavares, said he was just getting out of the shower when he heard popping noises.  Seeing smoke and flames coming from the garage, he ran toward the two men and urged them to get away from the building as he was afraid it was going to blow out on them.

“He was trying to save his home – definitely in a different world.  I don’t think he recognized who I was,” Tavares said.

He said Rodriguez was a “man on a mission” to save his home and seemed to be in a trance as the fire singed his hair and left black smudges on his face.  His wife Elisa had gathered up their two small dogs and left the house taking shelter with other neighbors in a yard to the north.

Tavares said Rodriguez kept trying to get closer to the flames with his water hose with little affect on the fire that worked its way into the attic.  Smoke traveled throughout the home and a 1994 Honda Civic was gutted inside the garage.  A later model Volvo was parked in the driveway in front of the garage with the paint receiving heat damage.

The Manteca Fire Department ordered a call back of off-duty and reserve personnel and received mutual-aid from the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department.  With a fire station still only in the planning for Lathrop Road, residents said they felt the response time was too long with engines coming from distant locations.

It was a visibly emotional moment when the two men, who had just given up their effort with water hoses got together some 30 minutes later on a nearby front lawn.  The older of the two noticed the loss in Rodriguez face as he stared toward his burned residence – grabbing him around the neck in a bear hug and telling him everything would work out.  

The home owner reportedly had suffered some smoke inhalation from the blaze and was taken to a local hospital to be checked out by a physician.  He told firefighters he didn’t want to go by ambulance and would go by private car.

Residents on the block said that the Rodriguez home was something special in the way their kept up their home and their yard as they voiced their concern for the couple.  The fire department listed loss to the home at $200,000 and another $70,000 to its contents.

Firemen were on the scene through cleanup operations a total of four hours.  There were 15 career firefighters on the fire including two from Lathrop-Manteca and six reserves.

Two residents complained that it took firemen five minutes to reach their neighborhood – the closest responding station was on Louise Avenue at Crestwood. Other engines came from Powers Avenue and Union Road at the Highway 120 Bypass.

Station 4 is in the planning stages for construction at a Lathrop Road location near the Del Webb development.  That would have made an appreciable difference in the response time, firemen said.  While the design phase is complete, there are reportedly no funds to build the station or to man it with firefighters.