A major disaster was prevented Tuesday as firefighters were able to stop a 142-acre brush fire southwest of Manteca near Airport Way Court, west of Airport Way.
The fire, whipped by 50 mph wind gusts, caused an estimated $2 million in damages.
The fire broke out shortly before 1 p.m.
One two-story home was destroyed while another 10 residences were saved by the collective team of 75 firefighters. The occupants of the home were not in the area when their house burned down.
Lathrop Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neeley cited a possible preliminary cause as teens on motorcycles riding through dry brush in the area. The chief explained that the fire spread to grasses and trees near Perrin Road and McMullen before jumping across the San Joaquin River into the Tracy side and back to the Manteca side. He added that the river bed was seriously dry because of recent years without rain.
“Each time it jumped, it was to the south,” he said with wind gusts of 20 to 50 miles an hour that kept the fire moving.
Chief Neeley called for mutual-aid support from other departments and it came with an almost immediate response. Firefighters and their engines and tanker trucks came from Manteca City, Tracy, Ripon, French Camp, Montezuma, Waterloo Morada Fire, Collegeville and Cal-Fire which also sent Helicopter 106 and an air tanker.
Neeley added that firefighters would be on the scene all night Tuesday searching out hot spots across the scorched acreage. They will also be on the scene on Wednesday to guard against flare ups in the area.
The City of Lathrop CERT team was activated by the chief to help support working firefighters. The fire department’s executive staff ran for food for the firefighters and the CERT members brought in bottled water and ice for the firemen, the chief said.
Eyewitnesses said the fire started after 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Three hours later, the combined fire personnel were still fighting the blaze. Flames, fanned by strong gusty winds, engulfed a stand of trees sending angry flames shooting in the air. Some of the flames flew over the road and landed on dry grass next to a corn field on the south side of one of the houses threatened by the fire. Firefighters fought several of these jump flames while they tried to contain the blaze that engulfed the trees which threatened a farmer’s home just across the narrow levee road. Residents of the home, using a garden hose, wet the dry grass outside the fence as an additional precautionary measure.
Some of the fire crews were dispatched to another dry field across the San Joaquin River to contain another fire caused by the shooting flames.
At 4:30 p.m., a fire truck and its crew was parked in front of the house directly across the fire on the other side of the levee road for the sole purpose of trying the protect and save the farmer’s house. The fire threatened not only the sprawling bungalow brick house but also, and more importantly, the fuel storage tanks on the property.
At one point, homeowner and farmer Tony Coit provided assistance to the fire effort by jumping into his tractor to help pull one fire truck out of harm’s way.
Residents in this bucolic rural area in rural south Manteca southwest of South Airport Road recalled a similar but bigger grass fire that took place some 20 years ago in the same area.