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Car fire ignites brush, destroys several acres off Franklin Canyon Road

A fire off Franklin Canyon Road in Martinez rips through a structure the morning of Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. (CONFIRE / Courtesy)
A fire off Franklin Canyon Road in Martinez rips through a structure the morning of Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. (CONFIRE / Courtesy)
By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

A fast-moving blaze ignited when a car caught fire Sunday morning in the 2700 block of Franklin Canyon Road, destroying buildings and killing one dog and four birds that had been housed in the structures, Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Captain George Laing said Monday.

One firefighter received minor injuries when a motorist in the area drove over his foot, Laing said.

District Fire Marshal Robert Marshall said Tuesday a barn and garage building and one home behind the garage burned in the fire, displacing one family.

“We had 16 engines, three bulldozers, two hand crews, a helicopter, four air tankers, and an air attack (spotter plane) to control both fires,” Marshall said. “This totaled over 90 personnel on the ground. Several of the engines, two dozers and all of the air resources were provided by CAL FIRE.”

Laing said he had no description of the car that caught fire.

His agency learned about the fire shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday when someone said they had seen dark smoke on Franklin Canyon Road, Laing said.

Responders saw a vehicle fully engulfed in fire that had spread to nearby grass, brush and trees.

“They got a handle on it, but there was no water,” Laing said. Among the agencies his district called for help was CAL FIRE, which provided “additional resources, especially water,” he said.

“People had to stay in that area. It was a dangerous area,” Laing said. Had winds blown the flames up the steep canyon, the fire could have spread to the Briones area, including Briones Regional Park.

“It could have been a big fire,” Laing said. “The vegetation is tinder-dry.”

Marshall agreed the terrain complicated the fire fight.

“The hills in this area are very steep, and the fire burned up the hill at such a rate that we could not catch it on foot, and there was no vehicle access,” he said. “We had to find a way in to the fire from the top, which took time, to allow us to catch the fire.”

During part of the fire fight, Franklin Canyon at Alhambra Way was closed, but one motorist driving close to the response equipment rolled a wheel over one firefighter’s foot, causing what Laing called “minor injuries.”

Both the fire and the injury to the firefighter concerned Laing, who asked residents to create defensible space around their homes and property, conserve water, use equipment that might spark a fire before 10 a.m., when the ground might be damp, plant drought-tolerant landscaping and to use caution when driving near firefighters and their equipment.

He said those reminders are posted on both the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District and CAL FIRE websites, http://www.cccfpd.org and http://www.fire.ca.gov.

“We keep saying all year that we’re coming to the end of a fourth year of drought,” Laing said. “All moisture is low, and we’re seeing a tremendous mortality in trees and conifers.”

When trees catch fire, he said, fires can be spread through their dry canopies in a situation he called “spotting.”

“That can make fighting a fire almost impossible,” he said.

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