A fast-moving vegetation fire driven by high winds forced the evacuation of some Oakley residents Tuesday afternoon, July 7.
“There were a number of different evacuations that were called because of the wind, and just in case of a wind shift,” said East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) Fire Marshal Steve Aubert. “All of the Summer Lake community and Sandmound Road were evacuated by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and Oakley PD.”
Aubert said the fire was initially reported around 11:40 a.m. It appeared to have started in the vicinity of ECCFPD Station 55, which is situated near the corner of East Cypress and Bethel Island roads and is currently unoccupied. Wind blowing out of the west pushed the fire to the east and it rapidly expanded.
The Summer Lake neighborhood sits on the south side of East Cypress Road, and as firefighters arrived on scene, there was concern that if the wind changed direction it could have crossed the road and ignited homes. However, the wind didn’t shift and the fire continued its movement toward Sandmound Road.
This was the second time in less than a year that Summer Lake was evacuated due to fire. Another vegetation fire, this one triggered by faulty PG&E equipment, started in the early-morning hours of Oct. 27, 2019. That evacuation was, by most accounts, chaotic. It was also complicated by firefighting operations at multiple locations along the principal evacuation route, a situation that was not repeated this time.
As the fire moved east, a single home on the 3600 block of East Cypress sat directly in its path. Without enough resources to extinguish the fire that was burning in thick grass and brush, firefighters worked for the better part of two hours to push the fire around the home and kept it from burning.
Standing atop a levee along the eastern edge of the fire, ECCFPD Battalion Chief Ross Macumber recalled fighting what he said was the exact same fire eight years earlier. He said in that incident, the fire crossed the levee and descended into thick brush where it lost energy before it hit Sandmound Road. He predicted this fire would do the same, and the fire behaved nearly as he predicted, though firefighting efforts were helped this time by an East Bay Regional Park District helicopter that made repeated water drops on numerous hot spots in the burned over area.
The fire was declared 95% contained at 2 p.m., and the evacuation order was lifted shortly thereafter. However, crews remained on scene for at least another five hours battling flare-ups and extinguishing hot spots.
All three ECCFPD engines were committed to this incident for most of the day, which left the rest of the district unprotected. A number of engine companies from the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (ConFire) responded to the incident, while other ConFire units assisted with coverage of the district. A mutual aid request was made for a strike team assembled from units across the region. The request was canceled as the team was en route.
The fire, which was estimated to have burned at least 30 acres. An ECCFPD spokesperson said the fire was sparked accidentally by an individual mowing grass.