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Firefighters investigating series of suspicious grass fires in south Merced

Suspicious grass fire reported in Merced

Firefighters responded to a grass fire Friday, Aug. 16, 2019 near the 15th Street Highway 99 overpass.
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Firefighters responded to a grass fire Friday, Aug. 16, 2019 near the 15th Street Highway 99 overpass.

A 1-acre grass fire on the side of Highway 99 Friday afternoon in Merced was contained before any people were injured or structures threatened. But it’s still concerning to fire officials.

The fire was the latest in a series of grass fires in the area that investigators have deemed suspicious, Merced City Fire Battalion Chief Cory Haas said.

“There have been (at least) three similar fires” in the last several weeks Haas said, adding investigators have ruled out natural causes, but can’t speculate as to whether there is an arsonist.

Merced city firefighters hose the last remaining embers of a one-acre fire on the east side of the Highway 99 15th Street overpass. Investigators say it's one of many suspicious fires in recent weeks.

Friday’s fire spread quickly on the hill north of 15th Street leading up to the highway, near the overpass and a homeless shelter. Smoke from the fire was seen by motorists on Highway 99.

The shelter wasn’t evacuated, Haas said, but the fire never made it that far and anyone in the building would have been safer from the smoke inside.

That fire comes just five weeks after another suspicious fire burned the highway hillside just across 15th Street, Haas said.

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Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.
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