A four-alarm fire tore through a northeast Tracy neighborhood Sunday afternoon, destroying one home and leaving a neighboring house uninhabitable and displacing more than a dozen people.
Several other homes were also damaged to varying degrees.
Chief Randall Bradley said the South San Joaquin County Fire Authority received the first report of grass and a fence burning behind 2710 Cabrillo Drive at 4:39 p.m.
Fire crews arrived and found that the fire had jumped a city drainage canal and was burning through grass, trees and fences behind Royal Court. Then the houses at 405 and 425 Royal Court both caught fire.
Police and firefighters got people out of 10 homes that appeared to be in the path of the fire.
Afternoon winds carried embers eastward onto Colony Drive and eventually to the Green Oaks Mobile Home Park, 2929 N. MacArthur Drive, igniting sheds, fences, trees and the exterior walls of homes.
“We had heavy winds, 30 mph winds coming directly out of the west, and anytime you have a wind-driven fire — and then it was creating an ember shower that pushed embers up to two to three blocks away,” Bradley said. “Anytime you have a wind-driven fire with multiple starts and multiple locations and it goes from vegetation to structures, it’s always a major challenge.”
As the number of homes threatened by the fire grew, the department increased its response from a single alarm to four alarms. Each added alarm summons more firefighters and more equipment to fight the fire or to cover stations whose crews are already committed to the fight.
Eventually, there were 45 firefighters at the scene with 10 fire engines, two ladder trucks and four command vehicles. The local fire department was joined by crews from the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District, Manteca Fire Department, Stockton Fire Department and Defense Logistics Agency Distribution San Joaquin.
“We were fortunate that we got a lot of resources quickly and that we really only lost two homes,” Bradley said. “While there were several other homes that were damaged, I think under those circumstances, getting a lot of resources there and stopping further damage was a really good job from the crews that were on scene.”
A large plume of black smoke rose above the neighborhood as ashes and embers fell onto cars and streets.
Bradley said the fire was burning in up to four places at the same time.
“We had four divisions and we needed the resources on each of those divisions because of structures that were on fire or could potentially catch on fire, areas where we put out vegetation that were near homes to protect the homes,” he said.
As the winds pushed the fire along, a total of 11 buildings and structures suffered some level of fire damage.
The house at 405 Royal Court was gutted, leaving 13 people without a home. A dog and approximately 50 exotic birds were killed on the property, and a shed was also destroyed.
The house next door at 425 Royal Court had extensive damage to two rooms and the attic, leaving it uninhabitable. Bradley was unsure how many people were displaced from that home.
Six other homes on Royal Court, Boleyn Court, Colony Drive and Cabrillo Drive suffered some exterior damage, including fire damage to the roof, eaves, siding or fences. At the mobile home park, the roof of a home caught fire because of flying embers but was quickly extinguished, and a 12-foot-square shed was destroyed. Residents of those homes were allowed to return after the fires were put out.
No firefighters were injured. One area resident was treated and released at the scene for smoke inhalation.
The fire department’s initial estimate for losses due to the fire was $800,000, but Bradley said that might be low.
Bradley didn’t know the condition of the grass and other vegetation in the drainage canal before it caught fire or whether the plants had been trimmed since the rainy season. He said the cause of the original fire hadn’t been determined and was under investigation.
On Monday, firefighters were sent back to the drainage ditch a few times as people reported smoldering grass in the area of Sunday’s fire.
Bradley urged everyone to be cautious on days when the wind is strong and the weather is hot.
“Everyone needs to be careful this time of year around dry vegetation and anything that could spark a fire, and everyone needs an evacuation plan,” Bradley said.
The National Fire Protection Association gives tips and step-by-step directions to make a home fire escape plan on its public education site.
The Tracy fire department also offers a comprehensive guide to family disaster preparedness, including fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters, on the city website.