More than 50 acres of Contra Costa County went up in flames Thursday as crews fought hard against the dangerous combination of a spark and drought-dried grass.
“Kinda like a dark smoke. When I saw that I was like, it’s near to my place and sure enough it’s just right there,” Eric Nilo said. He lives just off of Williow Pass Road in Pittsburgh.
The fire he saw went from one to three alarms – two to 50 acres- in just three hours under the hot sun on the first afternoon of spring.
High voltage power lines in the area were threatened but not severely damaged.
And they weren’t the only explosive concern as flames raged.
The fire was literally fuel to the debate over what could soon be built nearby – crude oil terminal run by WesPac.
The facility would send oil to refineries around the Bay Area through underground pipes once it receives crude or partially refined product from sea and train shipments.
Up to 10 million gallons of it would be stored each day in empty fuel oil tanks left in the area after PG&E stopped using them years ago.
“It could be dangerous,” Nilo said.
Homeowners nearby are worried about asthma and cancer causing fumes from increased rail traffic and noise pollution that could bring down property values.
“Every time the train passed by, we could hear it from our house,” Nilo said.
Those worried are organizing through groups like the Pittsburgh Defense Council and have won a victory – a re-opening of public comment on this project’s environmental impact report.
And with the crude oil -rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec seared into the American psyche eight months ago, folks here can’t help but wonder what a similar crash or fire might do with WesPac in place.
Investigators have not yet determined a cause of Thursday’s fire.
They say it could be as simple as a bird that hit the high-tension lines, caught fire and then dropped into the grass.
One firefighter suffered from smoke-inhalation during the blaze.
Several otters, rabbits, snakes and a possum were burned when the marshy field was on fire.