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Suspicious fire destroys old home on Lake Road

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK
Madera-Mariposa-Merced fire department battalion chief Brian Neely and engineer Jeremy Silva survey the complete destruction of a house that burned Thurs. night on Lake Rd in Merced, Calif. Friday, April 2, 2010.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK Madera-Mariposa-Merced fire department battalion chief Brian Neely and engineer Jeremy Silva survey the complete destruction of a house that burned Thurs. night on Lake Rd in Merced, Calif. Friday, April 2, 2010. Merced Sun-Star

An evening blaze burned a dilapidated house to the ground on Lake Road just outside Merced on Thursday night, according to Merced County Cal Fire Battalion Chief Brian Neely.

No one was injured in the blaze.

Fire investigators are still trying to figure out the cause.

Investigators did say the fire was suspicious.

The first fireman on the scene, Jeremy Silva, an engineer with Cal Fire, said that "the whole house was fully involved" when he arrived just after 9 p.m. Flames reached at least 20 feet into the air, he said, and fire was coming out of the windows.

"There wasn't even an option of going into the house," said Silva.

An electrical line had fallen onto the metal fence fronting the property, and Silva said he could see electricity arcing from the line. "You could see the blue electric current," he said.

The main concern of firefighters at the scene, said Silva, was protecting nearby homes.

While fire crews contained the fire by 9:30 p.m., they didn't leave the scene until after midnight.

Merlene and Leon Coles, who live just south of the house that burned, said they got home late after the fire had been put out.

All they saw was a lot of smoke, said Merlene Coles.

By Friday morning the structure was a charred ruin.

The building burned nearly to the ground.

All that as left were piles of burned debris -- clothes, appliances, pots -- and a gutted minivan.

Silva said the fire torched the house so much they probably won't be able to determine the origin of the fire or its cause.

The fire could have been worse, since knee-high grass covered much of the property. The grass was damp so it didn't catch, said Silva.

"It would have been a major incident in the summertime," said Neely.

The property at 3645 Lake Road, which was uninhabited at the time of the fire, is owned by Rosa Sabala.

"I raised nine children in that property," said Sabala, who moved out in 2005 because of a dried-up well. "I am very sad because I could walk through the house and picture my children growing up, playing in the dining room. It had so many good memories -- and now they are gone."

Up in smoke.

Reporter Jonah Owen lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.

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