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Simmering stew gets blame for $114K mobile home inferno
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Firefighter Dennis Hatfield fights a wall of flames coming from inside the living room of a mobile home Thursday afternoon that threatened two other structures in the El Rancho Mobile Home Park on East Yosemite Avenue. - photo by GLENN KAHL
A simmering kettle of stew on the stove Thursday afternoon led to a fire that took all Manuel Rego, 67, had in life – leaving his mobile home a burned-out shell.

Black smoke in the air could be seen from downtown Manteca.

Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters laid the blame to the stew left on the burner when Rego had  lain down for a quick afternoon nap – one that he usually took after lunch.

He said he had not quite fallen off to sleep when at about 3:30 p.m. his home was engulfed in smoke and flame all around him. Receiving a 911 call that a mobile home at the El Rancho Mobile Home Park was on fire and that someone was still inside, firefighters responded with three engines and a ladder truck.

Firemen feared a blaze of any proportion in the middle of the mobile homes could easily spread to adjacent structures, and they were right.  Two other mobile homes to the rear of the fire had flames licking against their outside walls and Chief Waters said they were all but ready to erupt in flames.

The fire caused $114,000 in damages.

Rego said he had smelled gas in his residence for the last four days; however firefighters discounted that claim and determined that it was the stew on the stove that set off the blaze as he tried hard to hold back tears.

The owner of the park, Marie Raymus, arrived on the scene and comforted Rego whom she had not previously known.  Two women who were scheduled to clean, dust and vacuum for him also arrived and did their best to calm the 12-year resident of the park.

Rigo and Yolanda Magana of Yolanda’s House Cleaning Service couldn’t believe what they were seeing when they arrived to find the street in front or Rego’s residence filled with fire engines.

With all of the city’s on-duty firemen at El Rancho, off-duty firemen were called back in to man the empty stations.  And there was no hesitation in their response.

“They’re dedicated,” Chief Waters said.  “If this had happened at night, the outcome would have been quite different.”

While there are normally only 12 full-time firemen on a shift at any given time, there were 15 who responded to the mobile home fire along with four reserves.

Rego, who lived alone, said he lost everything in the fire including his framed 1975 citizenship certificate that hung on his living room wall along with pictures and other mementoes of his family.

He said he was raised on a dairy and that’s what he did all his life – work with his hands.  As for family, there is a son who lives in Modesto, he said