Brush fire on Mt. Tam triggers aggressive response

A brush fire on Mount Tamalpais Wednesday afternoon triggered an aggressive response, keeping the blaze to about an acre.

The Ridgecrest Fire ignited when a visitor's vehicle caught fire and flames spread to nearby vegetation.

"This area has always been a concern for us, the Throckmorton Ridge," said Battalion Chief  Todd Overshiner of the Marin County Fire Dept.

Because of the challenging summit location, Overshiner called a full wildland response, summoning engines from multiple Marin County agencies and Cal-Fire air support.

Arriving crews saw smoke rising straight up, indicating light winds.

Late afternoon fog on the coast was a positive sign as well.

But with Mt. Tam's forest so dry and thousands of people living on and below its slopes, any sign of smoke is unsettling.  

"It's very visual and everyone can look up and see it when we have a fire on the top of Mt. Tam so I know it's very concerning to many people," said Overshiner.

Residents along Panoramic Highway at the summit are reassured by the presence of a staffed fire-lookout tower and a dedicated fire station.

"Everybody is on edge, very very aware of fire," said Trip Kaplin, who lives in the area.

"This seems to be happening a little early, but the Dixie Fire's been raging for about a month, so it's the new normal and a little scary."

When the fire broke out, Cal-Fire already had resources flying, responding to a reported fire in Sonoma County.

Two air tankers and a water-dropping helicopter were able to divert to Marin County, making for an especially swift response.

"It was very important to have the aircraft available," said Overshiner, "because right now we have numerous resources from Marin helping on the Dixie Fire and others around the state."

Overshiner estimates at least a dozen engines from Marin agencies are currently out-of-county on mutual aid assignments.

Remaining crews are taking on extra shifts to backfill the absences.

"This is a typical Bay Area fire," said Overshiner, "and it came together, worked to our benefit that the weather cooperated."

When the fire started, a few dozen park visitors had to be cleared out of the area.

The vehicle that burned remained at the edge of the fire until a tow truck arrived to take the charred SUV away.

The driver was uninjured and questioned by deputies, but the car fire appears to be accidental.

"I walk a lot on the mountain and there are so many dead trees, so much fuel, it's scary, " said nearby resident Kellie Macgee who said she has cleared brush from her property for fire prevention, and plans to do more.

"Today I was thinking I might have to pack a bag and leave, but they were on it, they were so good, I didn't need to," said Macgee.