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Grass Fire Destroys Home in Manteca, Burns 50 Acres

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MANTECA --

Helicopters, hoses and hand-to-and combat -- three weapons crews from 12 different agencies had to aim at a rebellious river-bottom fire that torched parts of Manteca and Tracy.

Crystal Gonzales was so worried about the smoke she saw this fire was churning up along Manteca's Airport Court that she put a mask on her 4-year-old, Cody.

She armed herself a different way.

"We sprayed the grounds around our houses with water," she said.

That helped save her home, but the day's fire fate was not as a good for a neighbor, who she says rarely occupied a house a few doors down.

The frightening events of the afternoon left Tony Coit sporting a ball cap that was new -- to him.

He picked up that sooty badge of honor on the Perrin branch of the fire as he used a tractor from his family's ranch to help the scrambling fire crews do their jobs.

The sandy ground was just one of the challenges more than 75 firefighters faced there.

"It probably jumped the river around 2:30 p.m. and started heading this way, and the wind kicked up and started carrying the fire pretty quickly," said Chief Gene Neely of the Lathrop -Manteca Fire District.

What was moving so quickly turned out to be one fire with three branches.

The Perrin branch was around 50 acres, approximately 89 burned on the Tracy branch and just three on the Airport Court branch.

"It looked semi-contained.  I'd say they had a pretty good handle on it, but then the wind came up, and  it was off to the races," Coit said.

Tinder box-type conditions plague all of drought-dry California, but Neely says it's strange for crews to have to fight them in this area.

"Normally the water comes up and really saturates the area. With the drought, we haven't had that for two or three years now," he said.

With the  search on for what sparked such a scary afternoon, investigators have moved away from their original thoughts that arson may be to blame.

Now they're interviewing people in the area and looking at accidental causes.

As of 10 p.m. Monday, the fire was 80 percent contained and crews planned to work through the night to fully gain the upper hand.