CORDELIA — Shamar Baz knows the gusting afternoon winds of Cordelia well. The nine-year Cordelia resident and mother watched the winds carry flames across parched fields near her house Friday afternoon.
Baz got her children safely out of her home while her husband fought a futile battle using a garden hose to stave off the flames that burned the backyard fence before destroying her kid’s playground and three storage sheds.
The Baz family got lucky. Other than some smoke damage, their house was spared. Two of their neighbors were not so lucky.
The first firefighters pulled up onto the shoulder of southbound Interstate 680 just before the Cordelia Road overpass a few minutes after 911 calls reported smoke alongside the freeway.
A firefighter reported a patch of dead grass and weeds were burning. He estimated the burn area to be about 20 feet wide and about a 100 feet long. He also reported ominously a moderate rate of spread.
“It probably started out this big,” a soot-dappled Cordelia Fire Protection District firefighter said later, using his thumb and forefinger to make a gesture about the size of a cigarette butt.
It took seven minutes until the gusting east winds carried red-hot embers to the dead grass along the center divide. A second fire crew was dispatched. A third engine crew was called up two minutes later.
As the Friday afternoon commute turned terrible, firefighters lost their battle against the wind and the flames.
More than 30 minutes after it started, the fire carried over to the other side of the freeway, quickly pushing its way east with the winds. Within minutes, the fire fight turned into a defensive battle and fire crews from as far away as Dixon and Napa were called up.
Solano County sheriff’s deputies and firefighters began evacuating the 40 to 50 homes that were in the possible path of the flames.
One Ritchie Road homeowner alternated between tears and prayers as she watched flames and dense black smoke make their way toward her home. Firefighters saved the home.
Three propane tanks in a nearby backyard exploded, adding to the roar of the spreading flames and sending residents and gawkers farther back from the fire.
A Vallejo fire crew pulled up to the evacuated Thompson’s Corner tavern just in time to douse nearby burning oak trees and grass. Behind the landmark tavern, firefighters dragging hoses disappeared into the hot, dense smoke coming from flames that threatened a row of nearby homes.
Overhead, spotters in two California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection airplanes began giving updates on the battle. By 5:30 p.m., a Cal Fire helicopter began dumping buckets of water on the hottest parts of the fire, which had spread to approximately five acres.
It was a five-alarm fire at the height of the battle.
After more than two hours of watching the color of smoke go from black to brown to white and then back to black as the wind carried flames to new fuel, firefighters got the upper hand on the blaze.
One Cordelia Road home was totally destroyed by the fire. Another nearby home was badly damaged.
Red Cross officials were working with authorities at a nearby command post.
The smoke faded about the same time as the commute traffic unsnarled.
Fire crews kept pouring cold water onto hot spots surrounding several homes.
“Were going to be here all night,” Battalion Chief Bob Stoffel of the Fairfield Fire Department said. “And probably all day tomorrow, too.”
Stoffel said it would be late into the night before residents evacuated from the fire would be able to return to their homes, although by sunset some residents were walking their neighborhood, looking at the charred black fields and yards where flames came within a few feet of their homes.
The fire was deemed under control shortly before 8 p.m.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.