Flames from a vegetation fire along Highway 99 jumped the freeway Sunday shortly before 3 p.m. putting motorists in danger from the smoke that spread over the traffic lanes.
Ripon firefighters at the same time were called to a vehicle collision on Milgeo and Cypress avenues. Units responded to the crash and called on the Modesto Regional Fire Department out of the Salida station to cover the vegetation fire while they were busy with power lines down at the scene of the crash.
Plumes of dark gray smoke quickly filled the sky and could be seen some 10 miles away as far as Interstate 5 in Lathrop on the west reaching hundreds of feet into the air as grasses and oleander bushes fed the flames. As soon as they were clear of the collision coverage, Ripon units responded back to Highway 99 where wind-fed flames were threatening homes along Parallel Avenue to the south at the edge of the freeway.
Ripon fire units responded to the blaze that neared the Barnwood Restaurant as firefighters quickly recognized they needed help calling for mutual aid from four other fire departments for help in attacking the blaze that worked its way south to Parallel Avenue east of the northbound lanes of the freeway.
Engines were running out of water in their engines as Ripon fire fighters called for water tankers to back them up in their attack from Escalon and the Salida stations in addition to their own Ripon tanker. Also responding to the fire were units from Lathrop-Manteca, Modesto and Escalon along with a Manteca Fire Department engine led by Battalion Chief Kyle Shipherd.
The parking lot of the Barnwood Restaurant was the initial command post for the incoming units to report for directions with Ripon Battalion Chief Marty Cornielson promising to protect the building – near where the fire had erupted. Fire on the west side of the freeway centered in the grasses between the freeway and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Flames reportedly were licking up the utility poles. As the fire was being knocked down and smoke was to a minimum there was a pop and the resurgence of dark gray smoke clouds that again billowed a couple hundred feet into the air.
There was one firefighter who was treated at the scene for minor smoke inhalation. No structures were lost. Two hours after the fire was knocked down one Ripon unit again responded to the northbound lanes to ensure that light smoke being seen was not the blaze reigniting.
Chief Cornielsen said the cause of the fire was unknown. It originated at the edge of the old Chevron service station on East Main Street near the Highway 99 on ramp.