Grass fire linked to lengthy Highway 24 traffic delays in Orinda

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ORINDA (KTVU) -- Flames and smoke created quite a scene alongside Highway 24 in Orinda on Monday, across the road from where it started. Fire officials said it wasn't a large fire, but one that serves as a good fire season reminder and wake-up call. 

All westbound lanes of state Highway 24 in Orinda were open this evening, several hours after authorities closed the lanes so firefighters could respond to a grass fire in the area, a response that caused a huge traffic back-up for motorists.

The lanes reopened around 6:13 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol. Three lanes had been shut down in response to a 25-acre grass fire that was sparked by a car fire around 12:57 p.m. when it was first reported.

The grass fire began after a Nissan sedan on the side of the road caught fire and the blaze spread to nearby vegetation, CHP Officer Brandon Correia said. No injuries were reported. 

"I was hoping the ground was still moist. I was surprised that the fire started this quickly this year," said Junko Rust of Orinda. 

Cal-Fire says it's the result of a wet winter. "We've got a grass crop that's tremendous that we haven't seen in about 10 years. It's a new type of fire danger for us," said Cal-Fire Battalion Chief Mike Marcucci. 

120 firefighters from Calfire and other agencies fought the blaze. Crews had worked since around 1 p.m. on the highway near the Wilder overpass and Fish Ranch Road.

This new type of fire danger includes six-foot-tall grass and a lot of it. Officials say this is the first significant fire in Contra Costa County this season, which started at the end of May. They say this is a timely reminder for people to prepare for what will likely be a long and possibly dangerous season. 

"Where would we go if there's a fire that threatens our house? What would we do with our animals, pets and things like that? I don't think we have a plan in place so we should think a little harder about that," said Sam Robinson of Oakland. 

"It looked like it could have been a whole lot worse and there's a lot of nice homes around here," said Roy Gesley of Oakland. 

"We have seven acres of land, so my husband the last few weekends , he's just cutting the weeds," Rust said.

"There's so much fuel on the ground, it's not going to take much to set all that fuel off, so I expect we'll have more," Gesley said. 

The California Highway Patrol had requested that both sides of the highway be shut down because of heavy smoke in the area. At around 3:15 p.m. two westbound lanes of traffic remained open.

Bay City News contributed to this report.