Neighbors suspect teens started fire

July 3, 2009 5:42:22 PM PDT
A Fresno couple in their 80's lost everything they had in a massive fire in Northwest Fresno. But 24 hours after flames ripped through this exclusive neighborhood, investigators said they're still not sure what started it. The fire began Thursday afternoon in the San Joaquin riverbed near Alluvial and Fruit.

Neighbors said they saw teens running away from the area where the fire started, but firefighters said they haven't found any remnants of fireworks in the area.

Fresno Fire Chief Randy Bruegman describes the 15 acre fire as the worst wildland fire in the city since the early 1980's.

Almost 24 hours after a massive fire ripped through the exclusive Northwest Fresno community called the bluffs, firefighters are still putting out fires.

A disaster that several neighbors feel may have been started by fireworks.

"This was not nature. No. This was man started. "

Fresno Fire Chief Randy Bruegman couldn't confirm that rumor, but said it's under investigation.

Whatever the cause, the damage is extensive. This home owned by William and Beth Duke, a couple in their 80's, devoured by flames. 1.3 million dollars in damage.

David Duke, said "They built this house in the mid 70's so a lot of personal items that will never be retrieved but they have their health and that's what's important."

The duke's were hoping to sell their home and move into a retirement home. Their son sifted through the rubble and found a small box of belongings, Mr. Duke's wallet and checkbook among them.

Right next door, fast moving flames consumed everything in the hillside home's path, right up to the wooden porch. Luckily, firefighters moved even faster, saving the entire house and several others around it.

Chief Randy Bruegman with Fresno Fire Dept., said "It did tax our system, we had most of our on-duty units on the scene at one time, we recalled firefighters from off-duty."

Chief Bruegman is relieved he didn't have to pull the trigger on his plan to bring in several city buses to evacuate the entire subdivision.

We would have had enough fuel load go up in a short period of time that it would have quickly crossed the street and we would have had the potential for a run into this entire subdivision.

Firefighters say Fresno Police have talked to several teenagers in connection to this fire but that's as far as that's gone and they're looking into other possibilities.

The fire also caused about $200,000 worth of damage to two other homes.

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