90-acre fire jumps I-80 in Vacaville

A 90 acre grass fire in Solano County Friday afternoon threatened homes after jumping the freeway.

The fire started at the north edge of Vacaville city limits near Midway Road and Interstate 80.

About 2 pm, drivers in both directions found themselves engulfed in smoke.

Many pulled over due to poor visibility, and both east and west bound directions were closed for a time, causing a massive traffic jam.

"The wind absolutely is what took charge of this fire and what carried it 250 to 300 yards across the freeway," said Vacaville Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Matt Lage.

Brickyard Building Materials on Midway Road called the fire in, saying it started off-site and spread on to their property.

With wooden pallets and landscape materials burning, fire crews worked to save at least half the business

They also scrambled to protect about a dozen homes, on large ranch properties.

Crews set up a backfiring operation, using two roads as fire breaks, to create a box buffering the ranches.

"We needed to take away the fuel and stop the momentum of the fire as it approached those homes and roadways and it worked," said Lage.  

The vegetation fire was just a few miles from the eastern edge of the LNU Lightning Complex Fire.

It began in August, after a flurry of lightning strikes, and burned parts of six counties, taking homes and lives.   

With a red-flag warning extended in many areas to Saturday at 6 am, much of the Bay Area remains on alert.

"We are right here where the Oakland Hills Fire was at its worst in 1991," said Michael Hunt of the Oakland Fire Department, pointing to the woodsy terrain of Grizzly Peak.

"The problem is it's hot, dry and breezy," said Hunt, " and Red Flag is when we need people to be safe and careful in the East Bay hills."

Many areas are keeping high-elevation roads and parks closed until the fire threat eases.

The Oakland Fire Department will staff-up and stay mobile overnight.

"We'll just be out on patrol in case something pops off, so we'll have a quicker response" said Hunt.

"We'll have two additional roving patrols through Saturday morning."   

There have been at least 7 small fires along the Grizzly Peak corridor since June, mostly late at night, and related to fireworks or people congregating on turnouts after curfew.

"We have been able to contain those blazes, but they raise major concerns about evacuations, so we want to discourage visits to these scenic lookouts," said Hunt.

It has been a tumultuous week for tens of thousands, whose power was cut to keep PG&E lines from sparking a fire.   

"We know we're a tinder-box, just a tinder- box," said a Sonoma resident named Joanna.

She spent 36 hours without electricity, but since she owns a generator, calls herself lucky.  

"I didn't use the air conditioning because why would you use extra stuff you don't need," explained Joanna.

"It was actually pretty decent, I stayed out of the house during the day and came back at night when it started to cool off."

And cooling can't come soon enough for weary fire crews.

In Vacaville, they got a big assist from CalFire, which sent bulldozers, a helicopter, and two tankers to drop retardant.

Also, because of the Red Flag status,  CalFire had a strike team positioned in Fairfield instead of an hour away. 

"They are outstanding partners and without their help on the ground and in the air we might still be chasing this or have a worse story to tell right now," said Vacaville's Lage.

By 9 pm, PG&E said it had restored all 41,000 customers in the targeted outage zones, and documented 30 instances of wind damage on its lines.

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU. Email Debora at debora.villalon@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU.