Five-alarm grass fire on Mare Island keeps firefighters busy in Vallejo

Vallejo Times-Herald
by John Glidden

A perpetual blanket of smoke covered the city Thursday as Vallejo firefighters battled at least four separate grass fires, including a five-alarm blaze which scorched about 40 acres of land in the southern portion of Mare Island.

First reported at 11:30 a.m., the Mare Island fire quickly spread, aided by high winds, near an area which burned during a previous fire that started early Wednesday morning.

Fire officials believe Wednesday’s fire began after two power poles were cut with a saw. Crews found saws near where the fire began and one pole had saw damage. That fire burned seven to 10 acres.

Thursday’s blaze did reach the historic Mare Island cemetery, burning a fence and trees located in the rear of the cemetery. The cemetery, which is part of the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve, is the oldest military cemetery on the West Coast.

Many of the gravestones in the cemetery were covered in pink fire retardant dropped from California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) planes as firefighters from multiple local agencies worked diligently to save the historic area.

“I’m so thankful we were able to get a handle on this fire quickly,” said Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan. “We are doing everything we can to save the preserve.”

Both Sampayan and City Manager Greg Nyhoff toured the area, speaking with fire officials.

The mayor credited the city’s removal of brush and clearing of fire roads on the southern portion of the island six weeks ago as a major reason fire crews were able to access the rugged territory.

Preserve Manager ‎Myrna Hayes took to social media late Thursday afternoon to thank the firefighters for stopping the blaze.

“You will find the Preserve more bulldozed, burned but not gone,” she wrote. “It will recover abundantly, I know.”

As of 5:30 p.m., City Hall announced that progression of the fire was stopped, “though crews will remain onsite for several hours to clean-up the scene, and throughout the night to monitor.”

As a precaution, abandoned buildings in the preserve and in the marsh area near the fire were ordered evacuated. Touro University California, which is also located on the southern portion of Mare Island, closed its campus by cancelling all classes and activities for the day.

Firefighters also responded to a three-alarm grass fire near Henry Street in East Vallejo at about 1:30 p.m. That blaze was contained about an hour later.

About 5 p.m. a three-alarm grass fire was reported along Sacramento Street and Highway 37. Crews from Vallejo, Benicia, American Canyon, Fairfield, Vacaville, and Crockett put out the two-acre fire which appeared to burn a homeless encampment.

Crews stopped a small vegetation fire which started along Magazine Street and Interstate I-80, officials said. It was contained by 1:48 p.m.