Marsh Fire now 60% contained, evacuations remain in effect

A fast-moving wildfire destroyed a hillside home Wednesday afternoon east of Clayton.  The Marsh Fire started near Marsh Creek Road just before 3 p.m. and doubled in size several times, before slowing with cooler evening temperatures.

As of Thursday morning, CalFire said the size of the blaze was 247 acres with 60 percent containment.

"It's unfortunate that our neighbor lost his house, but we're keeping our fingers crossed," said Kit

Sondergeld, standing with husband David, watching helicopters douse their home on Aspera Drive. 

The couple rushed from work when they heard about the fire, and watching news coverage on their cell phones, saw their neighbors house burning to the ground. 

They knew their home, directly above the destroyed one, could be next.

For as long as they could, they remotely monitored their eight home security cameras. 

"So I could look in each direction from the house and see what was going on," described David Sondergeld, "and at one point I saw flames coming up and then the electricity went down and I couldn't see anything more."  

From the fire's start, the air attack was intense, with helicopters pulling water from nearby ponds and air tankers, including the 20,000 gallon Supertanker dropping retardant to slow the fire's spread.
High temperatures, steep terrain, light wind, and dry fuels all combined for another challenging firefight in what is a busy fire season. 

"It's a multi- agency all hands kind of situation here," said CalFire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox, four hours in the fire when it was at 225 acres and zero containment.

"We can confirm that multiple structures have been destroyed," said Cox, later clarifying that two of the three structures were outbuildings.

By late afternoon, the fire was burning in a southeast direction, with scattered ranch properties in its path and dozens of households under evacuation.    

"Homes are threatened, structures have been destroyed, and we encourage everyone in that evacuation zone to get out," said Cox, "because we never know how conditions are going to change based on the wind and the weather." 

By evening, crews were working on perimeter control, burning the fire down to Marsh Creek Road, which provides a fire break. 

Hand crews will spend a long night on the fire, and bulldozers will climb the slopes to grade more line as needed.

"We went right up when we got here, but had some trouble finding a way," said Captain Frank Wynn of Alameda County Fire, who was manning a bulldozer. 

"We were trying to get up to the houses, and finally found a way, so we could flank the fire." Was Wynn close to the home that burned down? "Yeah, I saw it and that was tough," he said, "it happened  fast."

Rural residents of the Mount Diablo foothills weren't surprised by the fire. 

Just five years ago, the Morgan Fire ripped through the same area, burning 3,000 acres over six days, forcing evacuations, but taking no homes.

"We all know about fire," said Kit Sondergeld, "and every spring we cut down the weeds, clear around the house, but when it's a fire like this, the heat is just too much."

The Sondergelds were bracing for a long night, unable to get in to see their home's condition, but grateful it survived, although coated in thick layers of pink fire retardant. 

"We're just thankful for the work firefighters are doing, and amazed at how the drops hit these spots on sixty foot flames," said David Sondergeld, "and pink is a much better color than charcoal or black."