FAIRFIELD -- Two homes were destroyed and another four were damaged Tuesday by a seven-alarm blaze that started as a grass fire along Interstate 80 before sweeping through a Fairfield neighborhood.
The 40-acre blaze was initially reported as a grass fire along the eastbound lanes of the freeway shortly after 3:40 p.m., said Fairfield Fire Department Capt. Bobby Silva. However, swirling winds sent flames surging down the shoulder, fully engulfing a tree before jumping a sound wall into the residential neighborhood that borders I-80.
Several homes and an apartment complex along Marigold Drive, off North Texas Street, were threatened by the wind-fanned flames that surged into the air with gusts between 10 and 15
Standing on the curb across the street of her childhood home in the 2900 block of Marigold Drive, Donna Bishop watched as her parents' home was engulfed in flames. Standing with her brother, Doug Gray, they worked to contact other family members to ensure them their parents had escaped uninjured with the help of Bishop's daughter.
Bishop recalled all the yard work and other projects her parents, Berna and Gene Gray, who were sitting a short distance away, recently completed.
"They ran out with their two dogs and the clothes on their backs," she said.
Now in their 70s, the Grays moved into the single-story home in 1974 -- a time when there were just 30 people in the neighborhood, Bishop said.
As she watched the flames continue to grow, Bishop spoke about the road that lay ahead of them.
"All the work we're going to have to do to put it back together, figuring out the losses," Bishop said.
"Rebuilding the house is fairly simple," she continued, "but replacing things that people built over a lifetime ..." she said, her voice training off slightly.
Fortunately, Bishop said, the majority of their family pictures had been duplicated, with sets going to multiple family members -- the lone exception, a picture of her great grandmother on the wall.
"It's the only one, and it's gone," she said.
Fire hoses crisscrossed the street that had been blocked off by Fairfield police officers as fire crews busied themselves trying to protect other homes in the neighborhood.
"Once a house is fully involved, you put a 'box' around it and try to prevent it from spreading to other structures," explained Fairfield Battalion Chief Matt Luckenbach.
At its peak, nearly 200 firefighters from Solano, Napa, Yolo and Contra Costa counties responded to the fire, along with backup from Cal Fire.
Fairfield Fire Chief Tony Velasquez credited the efforts of on-scene crews with preventing the fire from being worse.
"Our personnel identified immediately that mutual aid would be needed because of the nature of the fire and the winds today," Velasquez said. "We received amazing support from the surrounding agencies, especially with everyone operating with very small crews right now."
As of press time, Silva said the perimeter of the fire was completely contained, while the structure portion was between 85 and 90 percent contained.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. However, Silva noted that, given its location along the freeway and the warm, dry weather, investigators "may never know the exact cause of it."
Crews will remain at the scene throughout the night to ensure the fire does not re-ignite.