Firefighters received word of a thick plume of black smoke at 7:16 p.m. The blaze at 2837 Eucalyptus Ave., which stands at the far eastern edge of that street, was well involved by the time firefighters arrived, Breasher said.
Michael Grey, whose great-grandmother, Rosemary Mathews, owned the home, said he noticed the smoke from his nearby home and drove to the scene as quickly as possible. He said he saw a white male who appeared to be in his 30s ride away on his bicycle near the scene.
Breasher said he was glad the fire did not spread further, noting there was lots of dense vegetation along the San Joaquin River a few hundred yards to the east.
"That could have been ugly," he said. "A riverbottom fire could have been burning for days."
Breasher said no electricity was running in the vacant home Sunday evening, ruling out the possibility of an electrical fire.
Grey, who said windy conditions Sunday did not help matters, noted mournfully that his aunt had grown up the house.
"It's been in my family for years," he said of the home.
Mathews' daughter, Cyndie Homen, said her mother had been living with her off and on for several months because she was ill and was staying at Homen's house at the time of the fire. Homen said she had fond memories of growing up the house, noting that her father built it in 1973. She and her mother were both devastated when they received news of the blaze.
The house had been repeatedly burglarized in recent months, with thieves stealing wiring on two occasions and even stealing an underground pump, Homen said.
"It's been a real stressor," she said of the fire.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or firstname.lastname@example.org.