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Firefighters worst nightmare
Plenty of dry weeds with fireworks on the way
A foreclosed home on Fremont Street across from St. Anthony’s School has its front yard chock full of weeds. - photo by HIME ROMERO
The late rains combined with unkempt foreclosed properties could make this a Fourth of July that some Manteca residents may never forget.

Manteca is dotted with dozens of yards where weeds are three feet and taller, thick, and dry. There are countless other yards with dried grass and spattering of weeds and dead trees. Almost all are foreclosures.

That is why the Manteca Fire Department is trying to pick up the tempo in dealing with the most flagrant weed infested properties before noon on June 28.

That is when safe and sane fireworks go on sale and can be legally used in Manteca until midnight on July 4.

“This isn’t the driest it has been but it won’t take much,” noted Fire Chief Kirk Waters.

What are unusual are the late rains that extended weed growth and encouraged taller and denser weeds. Complicating that further is the fact there are still banks that do not have a complete handle on yard maintenance of homes they have taken back as foreclosures.  All it takes is a couple of days of temperatures in the high 90s or 100s plus drying north winds and the fire fuel load would be ripe for a disaster.

The department is trying to knock down the most problematic yards using private contractors between now and the approach of Independence Day. They are especially concerned about homes such as on Fremont Avenue that has a small forest of towering weeds packed in the front yard.

Firefighters can get a big boost in reducing fire danger from those who have received citations for weed abatement to take care of high weeds as quickly as possible. In the case of properties that aren’t being taken care of, the city is using a new emergency citation process to fast track work. The cost of abatement is then placed as a lien against the property. That means they cannot clear escrow in a sale without the city being reimbursed.

The late rains and high growth prompted the city to encourage Caltrans to mow down dry vegetation along the Highway 120 Bypass.

The 120 Bypass is one of the most fire-prone areas in the region for grass fires. It isn’t unusual to have 20-plus grass fires a year in the six-mile stretch. The mowing doesn’t eliminate the grass fires but they do give firelighters a fighting chance to keep it contained to the bypass and not spread to nearby homes and businesses.

The last fire fatality in Manteca was during a grass fire at the Highway 120 Bypass and Highway 99 interchange. Smoke from a fire burning in the southeast quadrant of the interchange drifted over Highway 99 disoriented the driver who left the freeway and drove into the middle of the fire. His wife - who was a passenger - died.