|Two firefighters working in scorching conditions suffered dehydration and a third suffered a knee injury after a three-alarm fire yesterday in San Rafael charred four acres and jammed traffic.|
An estimated 42 firefighters from San Rafael, Marin County, Novato, Marinwood and Larkspur fanned out to fight the fire, reported at 10:15 a.m. in an area of open space east of Highway 101.
No major injuries were reported and homes were not threatened. The fire was under control about 11:30 a.m., fire officials said.
"Hot day, a very, very steep hill and fortunately, no wind," said San Rafael Fire Chief Robert Marcucci. "Wind would have made it a whole different fire."
Fire officials said it appeared the blaze began at the base of a steep hill thick with grass and eucalyptus trees along the Lincoln Avenue on-ramp to northbound Highway 101.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, fire officials said.
Dense dry fuel encouraged the flames to race uphill before coming to a halt at a fire road above the freeway.
Officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection dispatched two fixed-wing air tankers, whose pilots released clouds of bright red fire retardant. Two more air tankers were ordered, but later canceled after fire crews held the blaze at bay, Marin County Fire Chief Ken Massucco said.
A CDF helicopter transported hand crews to battle the blaze before picking up loads of water in a basket to help douse the flames.
Traffic on Highway 101 slowed to a crawl. Motorists slowed to gawk at the towering thin column of orange smoke that dominated the cloudless sky.
San Rafael police and the California Highway Patrol shut down freeway ramps in the area, backing traffic up on busy Lincoln Avenue.
The fire came on one of the hottest days of the year. A few minutes before the fire started, the temperature in San Rafael was 81 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. By 11 a.m., it was 88, weather officials reported. The thermometer hit 101 in Novato.
Fire crews, many of them red-faced and thirsty, caught their breath in the shade beneath the freeway underpass at a command area set up at the bottom of the on-ramp.
Emergency crews aided the two firefighters who suffered the most from the heat; others drank juice, water and sports drinks from bulk supplies stacked near the curb.
A few minutes after the fire was controlled, hand crews were told to pull back when some reported hearing trees cracking in the area. Several trees fell, but crashed down into the fire area and did not endanger firefighters, said San Rafael Battalion Chief Stan Fernandez.
"All in all, they did what they were supposed to do," he said of the effort. "They were confronted with the task and met their objective."
The Bay Area, usually kept comfortable by coastal breezes, sweltered yesterday as winds, retarded by built-up high pressure, reversed direction and moved from east to west, National Weather Service meteorologist Wendy Stanton said.
A red flag warning - signifying extreme fire danger - in elevations above 1,000 feet is in effect through tomorrow morning, when relief from the heat is expected.
"It's going to be pretty hot for the next two days," Stanton said.
|San Rafael firefighters take a break from the heat yesterday near the scene of four-acre fire.|