A fire destroyed a pricey southeast
home early Saturday morning while the owners were away on a Fourth-of-July
Today, only the walls stand at the boarded-up
home, where 35-year-old real estate agent Frayba Tipton, her husband Billy
Tipton, 30, and their five kids lived.
Flames ate up the home’s wood frame, collapsing the heavy
slate roof and gutting the garage.
Investigators believe someone purposely set the house on
fire, but are still unsure.
“It looked like the fire started in a bunch of different
places,” said Division Chief Germaine Friends of the Tracy Fire Department.
“We’re thinking it was an incendiary fire.”
The Tiptons will have to rebuild their home from the ground
up, they said today. The fire cost the family roughly $1 million
in damage, which insurance “has been good” about covering, Billy Tipton said.
Firefighters got a call from the neighbors around 4:35 a.m.
that the sizeable home was engulfed in flames. The engines drove up at
4:45 a.m., according to the fire department. Residents claimed the response took a bit longer.
It took four hours to douse the fire and the house had been
burning since at least midnight, Friends said.
Today, “it looks like a big bowling ball fell on top of the
house and destroyed it,” Friends said.
A couple neighbors said that during the burn, they could
feel the heat from across the street.
“It was pretty intense,” said neighbor Gerald Butchko, a
retiree who called the fire department after waking up to the sound of
“popping, like little explosions.”
As he walked toward his front door, he already saw the glow
of the across-the-street fire, he said.
Neighbors helped rescue the family’s Rottweiler and
kennel-caged boxer, which were kept in the backyard, several feet away from the
"The dogs were just shaking," said Ron Rice, a
retired trucker and the next-door neighbor who helped rescue the two dogs.
When Friends drove up with all but three of the city’s fire
engines and some from another district, he said the flames had already begun to
vent through the garage.
The doors melted off and he said he knew that the trusses
were dangerously weakened.
Seconds after calling firefighters to step outside the
flame-engulfed house, the roof crashed to the ground.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Friends said, to realize that he
called them out “in the knick of time. I thought we could’ve ended up with a
few firefighters injured or killed. My stomach was in a big knot.”
The damage is extensive, but a Saturday’s near-windless
morning kept the fire from licking up neighbors’ fences, Friends said.
As firefighters doused the house, Rice hosed the fire from
his adjacent backyard, nervous that the flames would spread to his garage, he
Rice said the knee-high weeds in the Tiptons' backyard made him
worry that the fire would burn up the five or so cars the family had parked
behind the burning home.
Frayba Tipton owns A+ Realty & Mortgage. Her husband owns West Coast
Mortgage. Both worked out of their home.
Frayba Tipton moved to
Billy Tipton grew up in
and was a
“We lost everything in that fire,” Billy Tipton said today.
The family got back from Tahoe around 3 in the afternoon
Saturday and was crushed to see the condition of their home.
“The kids just started bawling,” Billy Tipton said. “We go
to Tahoe every Fourth (of July) weekend …and then we come back to this.”
He said he and his wife had just started to remodel the
house and that he recently planted a row of palm trees in the front yard.
“We were just getting things together,” he said.
The family will rent another home in town until they rebuild the one lost to the weekend fire. Until they find a rental, they'll stay with family and friends.
•To reach Tracy Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth, call
830-4225 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.