At 3:14 pm Thursday, Contra Costa County Firefighters responded to a vegetation fire in Pittsburg that quickly spread to 40-acres and became a three-alarm response.
Upon arrival to the area of W. 10th Street near Willow Pass Road, Engine 85 requested a full vegetation response and the dozer as crews reported 1-to-2 acres of grass and brush on fire. There was also a safety warning issued to fire crews as the fire was located under power lines.
The fire did not damage any structures, however, the blaze did injure a firefighter who was taken to the hospital and admitted for observation for smoke inhalation according to Fire Prevention Captain Robert Marshall.
The dry conditions, wind and location of the fire presented a challenge to firefighters because the access was limited and they were fighting marsh land, canals, and mud—in fact, at one point, both an engine was stuck in the mud while the dozer got stuck after ground near a canal gave way. Firefighters also were knee to chest high in med at certain points.
“Access was awful,” said Marshall. “We had quite a hard time reaching a lot of places of the fire because it was all marshland. Once you got away from the road it was marshland so that presented a challenge. Along with many canals, we had to find other ways around the marsh to access the fire. It was also muddy. It created quite a bit of trouble.”
Marshall explained that if this type of situation occurred out on an island, fire crews would let the fire burn itself out until it reached the water; however, they could not do it with nearby structures and concerns.
“Normally, if this was out on an island, we would let it burn itself out. In this case we had some significant structures we wanted to save. What saved us was the helicopter from CALFIRE,” said Marshall. “The biggest concern was the east side of the fire area was the Pittsburg Generating Station for NRG and on the power plant they had several tanks which have some residual fuel oil—which helps keep tanks weighted down—so that was our main concern to keep the fire from spreading to that. Luckily that danger passed in about an hour but burned towards the cooling towers so that would have been a big deal.”
Marshall noted that typically this time of year that area is green but with little rain, it’s brown and has lots of fuel which makes a fire spread quickly.
Firefighters also had to deal with a potential danger of power lines overhead which was high voltage lines coming from the power plant. The fire was directly underneath as crews worked. PG&E worked with firefighters to ensure safety of the crews.
“Luckily we were able to get PG&E there quickly to monitor the lines for us while we fought the fire. Luckily they did not come into play while firefighters were working the incident,” said Marshall.
Marshall also noted that traffic from Highway 4 also played a role in the fire growing because they could not get crews their quickly. In what would typically be a 10-15 minute response it turned into 30-minutes.
“Traffic had a big effect on this incident,” explained Marshall.” When you get to a second and third alarm you are getting resources from Martinez/Concord and Brentwood/Oakley—it took them significantly longer. I had a firsthand problem with this yesterday. In normally a 10-min commute from Pleasant Hill and it took me about 30-minutes. That was consistent for all the resources. It took a ton longer. The units going code three were about 30-minutes. With traffic on Highway 4, there was not a lot of room for people to go so our engines could go around traffic. The biggest delay was the dozer where the challenge was getting a big rig around traffic which was challenging. “
By 7:00 pm, the firefighters had contained the fire and the incident was officially closed by 11:03 pm, however, Marshall pointed out they had crews patrolling the area throughout the night for “hot spots”.
In terms of loss, it was vegetation and PG&E losing boardwalks which it had recently replaced. These are boards placed 5-7 feet above the marshland to allow for access to the area. Marshall estimates PG&E lost about 80% of their boardwalk in the blaze.
- In terms of response, Station 87 which closed last year would typically be the third engine to response
- A vehicle accident in Concord required two-engines and five ambulances at the same time as the fire was starting. Those units from Concord would have been closer than units who responded.
- By 8:45 pm: Engine 93, 94 & 52 along with BC 5 were released from the incident
Photos provided by CONFIRE Public Information Officer