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Semi-truck blamed for four fires along Hwy. 156

One fire ignited fences behind San Juan Bautista homes, causing significant damage to one
Firemen clean up after fire.
Hollister firemen prepare to leave after fighting the fire in San Juan Bautista.

Eight engines from the Hollister Fire Department, along with aircraft from CalFire, responded to four fires along Highway 156 Monday near San Juan Bautista. One grass fire ignited fences behind homes on Franklin Circle, causing one structure to catch fire.

California Highway Patrol received reports just before 2:45 p.m. about three fires on the side of 156; a fourth was reported shortly after. Westbound 156 traffic was reduced to one lane as the fires spread.

“There were four fires and this was one of the bigger one,” said Bill Garringer, Hollister’s interim fire chief, at the scene of the house fire. “Further up 156, there were two other smaller fires and one large one that Cal Fire handled with aircraft and staffing. This one was handled by Hollister Fire and a strike team from Monterey County.”

Garringer said all four fires were started by the same source: a catalytic converter on a semi-truck.

“At every fire, the arson investigators found chunks of catalytic converter metal,” he said. “It’s an accidental fire. It started in the weeds next to the road and in this case it got into a lot of the fences and one structure fire, which was put out pretty quickly.”

Leo Alvarez, division chief for the Hollister Fire Department, said the house that caught fire had major damage. “We were able to save the two adjoining structures. The residents got out safely; one had slight smoke inhalation,” he said.

CalFire responded to multiple roadside fires at 2:50 p.m., at the intersection of 101 and 156, said Johathan Pangburn, information officer for CalFire. "We responded with air elements of CalFire and were able to quickly contain all the areas that were on fire within an hour," he said. "The fixed-wing air attack resouces came from Hollister. We also sent a helicopter out of Bear Valley that dropped water."

Anthony Ponce, who lives a few houses away from the damaged house on Franklin Circle, said he saw the fire as it approached the home. “It started burning under the eaves and into the attic,” he said.

According to a John Candelaria posting on a San Juan Bautista community Facebook page: "Sadly, there was a home that very well may not be salvageable. The Fire Crew did put in a valiant effort and were able to limit damage. Unfortunately, response time was poor due to the fact that they had to respond from Hollister (30 minutes). Most of the old (ex) volunteer team arrived immediately with garden hoses and shovels and did their best. I'm proud of my SJB community!"

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About:
John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is an investigative reporter for BenitoLink. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.

Comments

Submitted by (Eric Lieu) on

Hey John, I thought we had a fire dept in downtown SJB? Were they not on the scene fast enough to save that house?

I am thankful that there was no loss of life and that only one building seems to have been seriously damaged (so sorry for the homeowners); I am grateful for the fire crews who combated the fire and minimized the damage.  My concern now is accountability: what about the big rig with the defective catalytic converter?   Hopefully, that vehicle does not continue to wreak havoc on areas through which it passed and that the owner can be identified and held accountable.

According to the records released yesterday the first firefighting rig (which was local) was on scene in 8 minutes, not 30 minutes. The follow-up rigs took more than 20 minutes to arrive.  Eight minutes sounds a little slow to me, we should look into that.  If the roads are closed, packed, or lane restricted, as was the case here, it's always going to slow the response from out of town.

As far as catalytic converter goes, the old ones always started fires if you remember.  Until 156 is rebuilt we probably need fire breaks, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Marty Riichman

Submitted by (allianceforcabu...) on

Have you heard any new news about the semi-truck?

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