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Officials: illegal fire pit caused Modesto blaze

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) -- Fire authorities in Modesto say they believe a fast-moving grass fire that damaged or destroyed nine town houses spread from an illegal outdoor fire pit.

The Modesto Bee reports (http://bit.ly/1qOWYi3 ) authorities are following up on suspect descriptions as the investigation continues into Friday's blaze.

Modesto Regional Fire Authority Battalion Chief Hugo Patino said the fire started on the grassy berm of a freeway project frequented by homeless people.

Strong winds and hot weather fueled the blaze, which quickly spread to a row of single-story town houses west of Highway 99.

Patino said three of the structures were destroyed, two were badly damaged and four had minor damage. Three vehicles were also damaged.

Initial estimates put the damage at $1 million, though that number could rise.

The American Red Cross helped at least 17 displaced residents.

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Information from: The Modesto Bee, http://www.modbee.com

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