A small, but highly visible brush fire in Napa Wednesday afternoon jangled nerves, and witnesses said they heard fireworks beforehand.
"To see something like this can put terror into people," Alex Kamara told KTVU, from across the street where he works as a McDonalds' cashier.
"All you see is blazing smoke up in the air and you could hear the fireworks popping," he added.
The fire broke out at about 2 p.m.near State Route 221 and Imola Avenue.
The open space is part of the Napa Valley College property, but an area of trees and overgrowth has become a refuge for homeless campers.
"Homeless folks were seen evacuating the area, and their safety was one of our initial priorities," said Captain Steve Becker, of the Napa Fire Department.
Becker said the fire sent heavy smoke across the busy four-lane road, and into an adjacent mall.
"haven't talked to dispatch, but no doubt they had their hands full with calls," said Capt. Becker, "plus we had other incidents in the city going on at the same time."
The Chevron has station across from the three-acre fire closed, due to danger from the gas pumps.
The McDonald's restaurant closed also, because of heavy smoke.
"I was pretty scared, I was like "another fire?" I don't want to get burned down," said employee Kamara.
Nerves were frayed, in part because of the 4th of July fire danger, and because Wednesday was the first day in four that Napa hasn't been covered, or at least curtained, by smoke from the County Fire burning to the east.
"I'm a little freaked out, to be honest," said Chevron customer Cynthia Rinehart, who drove past the fire as it was spreading, then returned later to confirm it was under control.
Rinehart admits her anxiety about fires stems from October's firestorm, which ravaged Napa and Sonoma Counties.
"The questions isn't "if" it's going to happen again, it's "when" it's going to happen again," said Rinehart, "so it does get the heart going."
Captain Becker understands the community sensitivity.
"We have had more than our share of smoky conditions lately, and nerves are on edge a bit after last year's fires," said Becker, "but we're doing our best to assure the public we're taking all precautions." The small fire proved stubborn in the thick vegetation amid breezy conditions.
Three hours later crews were still making sure hot spots were doused, and Napa Fire planned to leave an engine in place overnight, just in case
"We're always in a high state of awareness on July Fourth and the day surrounding just because of the traditions and the fireworks," acknowledged Becker.
Officially, the fire's cause is under investigation, although investigators have heard reports of homeless persons using fireworks in the vacant field.
"We're positive because we heard the popping sounds," said Kamara, "and people I work with saw them, and the roman candles popping in the air, so we know for sure it was fireworks."