El Sobrante blaze stops within yards of homes


Rapid response by firefighters is credited in saving homes after a brush fire broke out on an El Sobrante hillside Saturday.

Fire officials said after the fire started around 2 p.m., it quickly made its way up the steep and dry hillside  and threatened an upscale neighborhood along the El Sobrante-Richmond border.

With the steep hillsides in the area now covered by tinder-dry brown grass — and the entire state suffering through drought conditions — fire crews from multiple agencies were dispatched to battle the blaze.

At the height of the fire, this reporter could see flames climbing to the top of the hillside, coming within yards, if not feet of homes.

Cars stopped along San Pablo Dam Road and concerned neighbors gathered in groups as they watched the flames from a neighborhood below. Deputies stood guard keeping vehicles from entering some neighborhood streets.

As the sound of fire sirens filled the air, helicopters circled overhead dropping water and retardant on the flames. From my viewpoint near San Pablo Dam Road, this reporter could barely make out individual firefighters through the smoke as they made a stand against the fire.

After firefighters were able to contain the blaze, Richmond Fire Department Battalion Chief Merlin Turner said from the threatened neighborhood:

“The big problem was the grass, as well as the wind.”

Nine engines from Richmond and the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District were sent to fight the fire. Cal Fire also sent two air tankers and two helicopters to drop retardant on the flames.

The fire consumed about 12 acres before crews were able to contain the blaze. By late afternoon firefighters remained on the charred hillside watching over hotspots.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but it’s believed it might have been sparked by a lawnmower.

John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio.  Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.

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