High winds mixed with dry conditions turned grassy freeway strips into tinderboxes Wednesday, and firefighters spent the days dousing flames.
Among them, a pair of fires were reported about 9:30 a.m. along northbound Highway 99 just north and south of Pelandale Avenue. Those were out for about 15 minutes when the flames came back stronger. And by that time, another blaze threatened a home on Bangs Avenue.
"The problem with today, of course, is the abnormally high wind velocity we’re experiencing," said Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Hugo Patino. "So what happens is, that causes even the smallest fires to intensify."
Firefighters didn’t have causes for the fires Wednesday afternoon. They could have started by sparks from equipment or from cigarettes tossed out by passing motorists, Patino said. Sometimes, they even start by the sparks from passing trains. "On a normal day, more than likely, the fires would have stayed much smaller and the crews would have been able to put them out much quicker but because of the wind, it takes longer."
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The first was reported about 9:30 a.m. off of northbound Highway 99 at Pelandale Road. Fire Chief Dale Skiles of the Salida Fire District said the fire appeared to have started on the north side of Pelandale Road and jumped to the south side.
Firefighters from Modesto and Salida had those out about 11:15 a.m. but about 15 minutes later, the flames were back.
"We don’t know if it was a rekindle or if it was a new ignition," Skiles said.
The second time, the flames were stronger, catching oleander bushes and brushing up toward businesses on Sisk Road. They suffered some exterior damage including a broken window and damage to utility meters but crews were able to stop the flames before they caused more serious damage.
Crews closed the northbound Highway 99 onramp for both fires.
At the same time, other crews were on the 2900 block of Bangs Avenue where a vegetation fire reported at 11:08 a.m. threatened a home, he said. The home also was spared.