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Man escapes burning motor home
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Ripon Battalion Chief Marty Cornilsen takes account of what is left of a motor home that was destroyed Thursday morning in a blaze reportedly caused by a propane leak buildup. - photo by GLENN KAHL

A man barely escaped with his life suffering burns from a motor home fire Thursday morning that sent billowing black smoke skyward over a rural farm area north of Ripon.

 The motor home backed into a driveway had become fully engulfed in flames after its owner attempted to light the stove to do some cooking.

Ripon Consolidated Fire Chief Dennis Bitters said the emergency 911 call came in to his station at 10:38 a.m.  Battalion Chief Marty Cornilsen alerted the Lathrop-Manteca fire station on Lathrop Road at Austin Road for mutual-aid response when he saw the plume of black smoke as he was responding to the fire scene.

Bitters quoted the victim, believed to be in his early 50s, and who sustained burns to his face and legs, as saying he had trouble in the past with propane leaks.   He said that he hadn’t had a problem with it recently.  However, when he tried to light the cooking unit inside the motor home, fire flashed back into his face out of a cabinet and engulfed his legs with second and third degree burns from the knees down.

He managed to get the window of motor home open to escape the blaze, falling to the ground.  Several people ran to his aid and helped carry him into the nearby farm house on the property.  The fire quickly ravaged the interior of the motor home.  The burn victim was transported by the Ripon Fire Department Ambulance team to a trauma unit at Memorial Hospital in Modesto.

It was shortly after the Ripon fire engine pulled up in front of the rural farm house,  with black smoke shading the sun,  that a Lathrop-Manteca fire engine and its crew arrived behind them to support the fire attack.  Chief Cornilsen complimented the efforts of the two fire districts working together to prevent further tragedy.

The farm house was about 75 feet away from the motor home and was not affected by the fire, however a white plastic fence in front of the house was melted by the heat, Cornilsen said.

As for the dangers of a propane leak, Chief Bitters urged the public to be aware of the potential for tragedy and to immediately resolve any leaks as soon as they are noticed.

“Don’t find out the hard way,” he said.