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California

Drivers describe harrowing moments crossing Carquinez Bridge amid fire

Glencove fire burns in Vallejo
Smoke from the Glencove fire in Vallejo, Calif., clouds the Carquinez Bridge.
(Hank Dowrelio)

Firefighters on Sunday were gaining the upper hand on a 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.

The Glencove fire, which started close to the Interstate 80 toll plaza north of the Carquinez Strait, was 75% contained by about 2 p.m., according to a Solano County sheriff’s official. The Carquinez Bridge, which had been closed, was reopened around 2:30 p.m.

At one point the fire north of the bridge threatened the Vallejo neighborhood of Glencove to the east and the California Maritime Academy to the west.

Vehicles in a parking lot burned and two firefighters suffered minor injuries because of heat exposure. Earlier, homeowners were seen with garden hoses trying to get down golden-brown hillsides full of tinder-dry grass.

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A woman identifying herself as Nancy Jordan posted a video on Twitter as she and her husband drove on the Carquinez Bridge between Crockett and Vallejo. They happened to be on the bridge seconds before officials shut it down.

Trees along the side of the road can be seen bursting into flames just feet from their vehicle, sending large plumes of smoke in the air as the couple drove on a portion of the bridge section of Interstate 80.

“Whoa, you can feel it,” Jordan’s husband is heard telling his wife.

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“Oh, my God,” Jordan said. “I can’t believe they are letting us drive through this.”

At about the same time, Rebecca Lam of Fairfield has just entered the bridge when her car was engulfed in smoke, fire on both sides. Debris from burning trees dropped in front of the car. She couldn’t see much, slowed and then stopped in the median.

Should she turn around or keep going into the fire?

She stepped on the gas and sped away.

On the passenger side, tall trees were burning like torches. On the left, grass burned. Her husband took photos. Their 2-year-old son yelled: “Hot. Hot.”

“Everything is on fire,” the couple’s 5-year-old daughter repeated.

Lam tried to calm them.

“Everything is going to be OK,” she said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and hopefully you’ll never experience it again, I hope.”

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Lam said she is in denial about the danger of the bridge escape.

“It’ll probably hit me later tonight,” she said.

Vallejo fire
A photo taken by Stanley Lam of Fairfield as he and his family traveling west on Interstate 80.
(Stanley Lam)

Flames were also spotted south of the Carquinez Strait, possibly because of flying embers leading to spot fires in Crockett, creating the Sky fire. The strait is less than a mile wide.

By afternoon, the 150-acre Sky fire south of the bridge was 50% contained, and firefighters were making progress on where the fire was advancing. Evacuation orders were lifted for Crockett, an unincorporated community of about 3,000 people on the northwestern edge of Contra Costa County.

Just south of some of the flames is the Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery in the Rodeo area.

The Maritime Academy serves about 1,000 students and offers undergraduate degrees in engineering, transportation, international relations, business and global logistics. The campus was safely evacuated, administrators said in a tweet.

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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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