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California

Fires burn structures in East Bay, destroying tennis club building in Lafayette

Lafayette fire
A brush fire burning in Lafayette, Calif., destroyed a Lafayette Tennis Club building and damaged an outhouse and a home.
(Contra Costa County Fire Protection District)

East Bay firefighters battled new brush fires Sunday afternoon near the Highway 24-Interstate 680 interchange in the cities of Lafayette and Martinez.

The Lafayette fire in Contra Costa County, named the Pleasant fire, burned both sides of Highway 24 and prompted some evacuations between Interstate 680 and Acalanes High School to the northwest and the private Meher Schools to the southwest. The seven-acre fire burned three structures, destroying a Lafayette Tennis Club building and damaging an outhouse and home. Forward progress of the fire was later stopped, and the blaze was 40% contained.

The second fire was in the southern part of Martinez, the county seat of Contra Costa County. Contra Costa County Fire Protection District firefighters responded to a fast-moving 50-acre fire at Forest Way and Alhambra Avenue, close to Martinez Animal Hospital. Firefighters gained control of the fire with no damage to nearby structures.

A Los Angeles Times reporter driving past the fires saw a hill on the west side of Highway 24 in flames, close to the freeway, and billowing a massive plume of smoke. The wind in Moraga, Orinda and Lafayette — cities just northeast of Oakland and Berkeley, on the other side of the East Bay hills — was howling.

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An Orinda firefighter knocked on doors in the city’s Glorietta neighborhood about 2:30 p.m. telling residents to prepare to evacuate because of the fire in Lafayette. “Houses can be replaced,” he said. “People can’t.” He urged people to pass on the information to others in town.

A large redwood tree in that same Orinda neighborhood crashed into a neighbor’s yard because of the whipping winds. No one was hurt.

Downed branches littered city streets and Highway 24. Swirling funnels of leaves showered the streets. Popular walking trails in these towns were closed because of fire danger.

In Orinda, which has been without power since about 10 p.m. Saturday, city officials arranged for food trucks to come. People lined up in front of them in the early afternoon.

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Video from KNTV-TV showed that the fire started where a power line fell, leaving wires on the ground. A KNTV-TV reporter quoted a person attending the Lafayette Tennis Club Junior Open tournament in the area of Camino Court in eastern Lafayette saying that the wind shifted, a power line went down and, moments later, an explosion occurred, sparking a fire.

A Lafayette police officer told the San Francisco Chronicle that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. had not turned off power to that part of town.

The Pleasant fire evacuation area was initially on both sides of Highway 24 — east of Pleasant Hill Road, stretching east all the way to Interstate 680 north of Highway 24 and El Curtola Boulevard south of the freeway. Officials lifted all evacuation orders by Sunday evening.

At an Orinda charging station that was offering residents coffee, water and outlets to charge their devices, Ryan Yeager, 39, who works in finance, was charging medical equipment for his daughter, Violet, who uses a wheelchair. He said she suffers from an disorder that requires a breathing device and a tube for nutrition.

He had ordered a $2,600 battery that was supposed to provide a few days of power, but it had not yet arrived. “I don’t mind this as long as we are not having to evacuate,” he said. Later in the afternoon, the town smelled strongly of smoke as the fire in Lafayette, which borders Orinda, burned.

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It marked the one of several significant fires in the East Bay on Sunday as the region was hit by heavy winds.

Firefighters were gaining the upper hand on a fast-moving fire that erupted near the Carquinez Bridge, which connects Contra Costa County to Vallejo in Northern California, and quickly spread into Crockett south of the Carquinez Strait, which connects California’s two largest rivers to San Francisco Bay.

Earlier Sunday in eastern Contra Costa County, fire officials got the upper hand on three fires in rural neighborhoods that prompted evacuations — two in Oakley along the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and one in a small, rural neighborhood of Clayton in the mountainous area east of Mt. Diablo.

“Miraculously, over the string of fires” over a six-hour period early Sunday, “only one structure was damaged,” said Steve Hill, spokesman for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. That structure was a gas station on Bethel Island in the delta. All evacuations have been lifted for those three eastern Contra Costa County fires.


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