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Tinder dry grasses spread fire threat
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Black smoke poured skyward from a rural fire on South Austin Road near Highway 99 Frontage Road at 6 p.m. Monday. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Highway 99 commuters witnessed flames and black smoke pouring skyward about 6 p.m. Monday from a Frontage Road blaze adjacent to the northbound Austin Road off ramp.

Heavy black smoke laid close to the ground for more than 30 minutes in a northeasterly direction rather than crossing the freeway. Had the breezes changed direction it would have plunged visibility to zero on the heavily traveled freeway

Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department Battalion Chief Larry Madowski said the 911 call came in as a simple grass fire.  When he arrived with a Manteca city unit he saw how the blaze had evolved and he called for mutual aid from two other departments with a pair of water tankers.  The chief said the fire was first seen by a couple residing in a nearby home who were in their kitchen with a young son. 

Burning in a minimal amount of acreage were pallets of paper and a heavier card stock as well as PVC plastic drip line stock used in farming irrigation – the source of the black smoke rising more than a hundred feet into the air.

Chief Madowski explained that the fuel grasses and trees are very dry because of the drought. Because of that firefighters are not hesitating to throw more resources onto a fire because of its potential to quickly grow in size.  He referred to last week’s fire throughout 142 acres at the end of Perrin Road south of Manteca.

Modowski said the response from Cal-Fire with air drops of water was unprecedented in the valley – one helicopter and one air tanker that helped the ground units bring the fire under control and save some 10 residences from destruction.

In Monday’s Austin Road fire, firefighters saved several cars and two travel trailers but lost two small structures and a couple animal pens they couldn’t reach in time.  The CHP responded to close the Frontage Road to traffic.