Vallejo wildland fire fully contained, burns 39.5 acres

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The grass fire that threatened dozens of Vallejo homes was on a hillside where fires are all too frequent.  

Located above I-80, any car spark can set the hill ablaze, and put Glen Cover properties at risk.

"I love it here with the view, San Pablo Bay, but it's just so frustrating," homeowner John Fox told KTVU as he looked at the charred wreckage of his backyard.
 "All this was alive and green when I went to work," he said, pointing to a blackened rose garden and avocado tree, and collapsed fence and gate.

The four alarm grass fire raced up the hill behind Fox's house just before 1 pm, and damaged four houses on the ridgelline.

Fox was teaching summer school in Pittsburg, when a neighbor texted him about the fire.

He rushed home and grabbed a garden hose, trying to help firefighters.

"It was hard to do anything because the smoke and ash were everywhere, and I have asthma," he added. 

Fortunately the firefight was swift, from the air with aircraft dropping water and retardant, and on the ground with engines and bulldozers.

It all began with a car fire, on I-80 eastbound, just past the toll plaza of the Carquinez Bridge.

A Jeep SUV had pulled over to the shoulder, and as it burned, it sparked grass along the freeway.

"That area is pretty problematic for us every year," admitted Battalion Chief Cliff Campbell of the Vallejo Fire Dept, " so we dispatched an additional engine from the get-go just because of the possibility of it getting to wildland."

The fire quickly went to four alarms, so that mutual aid could position engines in the neighborhood in case embers in the wind caught roofs on fire.

For two of the nearest houses, it was hot enough to break windows, melt blinds and curtains.  

When eaves started burning, firefighters cut them down rather than risk flames spreading into attics.

When it subsided, the worst-damaged homeowner calmly cleaned-up, unfazed by the mess, just glad her mom and daughter got out safely.

"Coming home on the BART train, I couldn't understand my mother if she was saying , our house was on fire or not," Chandi Reliford told KTVU, describing a stressful ride home from San Francisco as the fire burned.

Sweeping up broken glass from shattered windows, Reliford was remarkably upbeat.

"We've got our lives. I consider us really blessed. Really blessed. All of our things are intact, nothing burned up and we're insured," she said gratefully. 

Reliford does agree with her neighbor Fox that a better fire break is needed on their hill, since any spark on I-80 puts them in danger.

"I'm 6'2' and some of the weeds were up to my waist," said Fox, "and since this is the fourth or fifth fire in ten years, I wish there was a wall built so this doesn't happen."

May of 2016 was the last  time the hill caught fire, but it didn't burn so perilously close that time.    "Sometimes matches are thrown from cars, cigarette butts, exhaust sparks," explained Deputy Vallejo Fire Chief Mark Sharpe.

 "And win this area, because of the wind, it makes a pretty quick run up the hill".

Two firefighters were hurt on the hilly terrain, suffering minor leg and ankle injuries.