OAKLAND -- A three-alarm brush fire in the East Oakland hills that began when a car plowed into an electric pole and knocked down wires was contained in less than two hours Friday afternoon by aggressive fire crews who evacuated dozens of homes and battled the flames by air and land.
Thousands of homes lost power during the incident, and crews are expected to close both directions of Interstate 580 between Golf Links Road and Seminary Avenue from 11 to 11:45 p.m. so that electric lines can be repaired. Southbound Highway 13 also will be closed at the connector onramp at Mountain Boulevard during repairs. Drivers will be rerouted along alternate routes. The closure had been scheduled for 9 p.m., but officials pushed it back late
Steep terrain near Mountain Boulevard and Edwards Avenue was a challenge as crews fought the blaze, which raised images of the 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm. Heavy smoke from the fire could be seen for miles and residents who fled their houses clustered on street corners.
Two CalFire helicopters dumped water on the fire while crews battled it on the ground. The blaze came within 100 yards of homes, but no structures were damaged and no one was injured in the fire. The fire consumed about two acres before it was contained. The blaze started shortly before 2 p.m. when a car knocked down a power pole at Edwards and Mountain. A woman in a maroon sedan veered off the road and into the pole about 1:33 p.m., a police spokeswoman
First responders found downed, live power lines and good Samaritans aiding the woman who had crashed into the poles.
"I was terrified" of the electrical wires in the street, said Gary Fields, 48, of Hayward, who stopped to help the woman. Fields and another man stepped carefully over the lines and helped guide the woman to safety.
Another passer-by, Ashley Suico, 26, of San Leandro, said she saw a blue explosion after the crash and could hear electricity crackling in the air.
She thought to herself, "I am going to watch this woman die."
Suico and Christine Davidson, 34, used their cars to block Mountain Boulevard to stop other drivers from driving over the downed wires. Police quickly arrived and led the injured woman, who was not identified, and her rescuers to safety. The victim was later reported to be in stable condition at a hospital. Authorities released no other information about her.
As the fire spread from the accident scene, dozens of firefighters and police responded. Oakland police and California Highway Patrol officers rushed through nearby neighborhoods, evacuating homes on Altura Place, Rifle Lane and Mountain Boulevard, and in a newer housing development called Monte Vista Villas at Leona Quarry.
As many as 20 people from dozens of homes were evacuated, officials said.
"This was the first wildfire of the year," said Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton, adding that crews will remain on site all night to monitor for hot spots.
At least 15 fire engines, two battalion chiefs and two helicopters worked to control the blaze with responders from Oakland Fire, CalFire, the East Bay Regional Park District, the Alameda County Sheriff's office and the Oakland Police Department.
Residents praised firefighters and police for their quick work evacuating homes and knocking down the fire.
Jimmy Murakami, 30, who was evacuated from a home with his 7-year-old son James, said the Oakland Hills Firestorm was on his mind as he watched firefighters working the blaze. Twenty-five people were killed and more than 3,800 homes were destroyed in that fire, which took firefighters 72 hours to control.
"It made it nerve-racking," he said.
One evacuated resident, 70-year-old Jean Glendinning, said she didn't think anything of it when the power went out. Suddenly, police officers were running through the neighborhood, banging on doors and telling folks to grab their pets, leave their belongings and get out, she said.
"They made sure that everyone was out," she said. "They did a fabulous job."
Some residents were allowed to return to their homes shortly before 3:30 p.m.
PG&E reported that as many as 6,800 homes in the area lost power, but power had been restored to all but a handful of residences by 7 p.m. Officials called for the I-580 closure to repair poles knocked askew by the chain-reaction caused by the collision, and hope to have the work completed in about an hour.