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Homeless may have started encampment fire
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Manteca firefighters continue to hit hot spots with water in a burned out homeless camp showing a charred bedroll laid out in the foreground surrounded by empty cans, clothing and bottles. The camp was within close proximity of a shopping center. - photo by GLENN KAHL

A late Tuesday morning grass fire that leveled a homeless encampment on Lathrop Road near the Raley’s Shopping Center at Union Road happened amid three fire department’s emergency rescue calls to homes in the area.

“We had four fire calls at the same time — this diverted our resources,” said Manteca Fire Battalion Chief Bob Davis. 

Firefighters were noticeably troubled by the encampment call having to redirect one of their engines to that scene where a citizen attempted to grab a man bolting through the smoke on his bicycle.

The longtime Manteca resident told firefighters and police about the incident and gave them a description of the suspect believed to have torched the camp with the fire spreading to the weeds.

He was described as riding a bicycle with backward handlebars wearing a black cap and bushy hair coming from under the cap. He reportedly fled to Union Road through a vacant field and disappeared near a local restaurant at the intersection. The resident attempted to follow but to no avail.

The homeless camp was located amidst wild plants and under a large tree that partially caught fire. An open bed roll and the remains of a bicycle were located in the ashes. An empty bottle of whisky and evidence that someone had been living in the camp were located.

Another smaller camp was located in the bushes nearby where a blanket and items of clothing were found abandoned some 90 feet from the fire. More clothes and personal effect were also found under plants on the opposite side of the trail. The blaze was reminiscent of a similar fire near the school district office in July where trees caught fire and continued to rekindle for a week bringing firefighters back to the scene several times.