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Fire leads to discovery of crawl space where person had lived

Sacramento firefighters remove a mattress from underneath an overpass on Highway 160.
Sacramento firefighters remove a mattress from underneath an overpass on Highway 160.
(Sacramento Fire Department)

Firefighters made a startling discovery when they responded to reports of a fire burning inside a freeway overpass in Sacramento over the weekend.

Light smoke was drifting from an open cavity on the underside of the Highway 160 overpass when fire crews arrived around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, department spokesman Keith Wade said. Authorities said someone had removed the access panel, which is typically used for maintenance purposes, and was living inside.

Photos from the scene show two firefighters extracting a burned, twin-sized mattress from within the belly of the bridge. They also found an end table and other personal belongings, Wade said, but not the occupant of the space.

“The concern is … you could have a sizable enough fire that would impact that bridge and cause internal damage to critical infrastructure,” Wade said.

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Before firefighters were able to enter the cramped 4-by-4-foot opening, special measures had to be taken to monitor the toxic gas and fumes that can build up in confined spaces, officials said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, and no injuries were reported. Caltrans is being tasked with assessing any internal damage to the roadway.

Fires inside a freeway overpass are not uncommon, but Wade said this was only the third he could recall in 20 years.

“It’s not a regularly recurring situation, but our message from our department would be that it’s not a safe place to occupy,” he said.


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