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Did homeless torch gas pump?
Witness saw apparent homeless man seconds earlier
The burned remains of the gas station pump. - photo by LIZ MORA

Setting fire to a gas station pump is a first in Manteca — even for an arsonist.

Manteca Firefighters responded to a Chevron station fire at 3:15 a.m. Tuesday at the corner of Louise Avenue and Union Road where the station was filled with smoke from the blaze that licked up a supporting beam.

Battalion Chief Kyle Shipherd said the fire took only about a minute to extinguish but caused between $4,000 and $5,000 in damages — the amount that it will cost to replace the pumping station. Shipherd labeled the fire as suspicious saying he couldn’t rule out arson until his investigation is completed.

Station manager Sunny Singh said he got a phone call telling him the station was on fire at about from the manager of the Quick Stop convenience store and gas station across Louise Avenue. They both called 911 about the same time, he noted.

A witness said a Manteca Ambulance crew arrived on the scene first and one of the staffers shut off the station’s emergency switch to keep the fire from spreading. Three engines followed and put foam onto the blaze, snuffing out the fire. Yellow caution tape cordoned off the destroyed area later Tuesday as well as the two pumps on the same side near the front door of the convenience store.

Singh said his friend at Quick Stop across the roadway told of seeing an apparent homeless man ride a bicycle up to pump number three and place some type of container on top of the gas pump and saw it burst into flame merely seconds later. Fire was contained to the single pump but smoke engulfed the entire business. Police said the station and convenience store facility was also vandalized.

The Chevron store manager said a large tanker truck arrived on a recent day to fill large in-ground gasoline tanks at a facility in Modesto. The driver told a story of delivering a load of gas when a transient approached him demanding money. As he told the man he didn’t have any cash, he said the homeless threatened him with the possibility of his dropping the lighter into the open tank at his feet and causing a fire or explosion. 

The transient backed off and rode away from the station, he said.

Singh said Tuesday evening that he knows of no one who would set fire to his station. He added that he treats his customers well and they have been nice to him during the four years he has operated the station.