Embers ignite new fires, force more families to evacuate
June 26, 2007
Despite a series of afternoon blazes that leapfrogged from the Angora fire and caused the evacuation of 500 homes, the atmosphere was lighter Tuesday afternoon among evacuees in the parking lot of Miller’s Outpost at the “Y.”
“I brought everything this time,” said Jim Doherty, who lives in the Gardner Mountain area.
On Sunday he had half-heartedly packed some of the stuff from his Clement Street home.
“The other day I had time to pack, but I didn’t see the urgency. I felt we were safe,” he admitted.
But Tuesday, he said there was no question whether or not he should leave, and the pace wasn’t nearly as leisurely. When he came home at noon he could see flames where there hadn’t been flames before.
“I ran in and said, ‘We gotta get out of here.’ It looked like hell.”
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Sheri Lasick and her family were visiting her parents’ vacation home on Clement Street for a few days when they got caught up in both evacuations.
Lasick, her husband and two daughters left the house on Sunday. Because of the highway closure they couldn’t return home to Sacramento, so they stayed in a motel. They went back to the South Shore house on Monday.
On Tuesday afternoon as the family packed to drive to Sacramento, Doherty rushed over.
“He said the winds shifted and the fire was coming right toward us,” she recalled. “You could hear it popping.”
Mickey O’Toole and his wife, Allison, share a home on Glorene Avenue in the Gardner Mountain area.
Mickey said he’d just prepared a “wonderful” spaghetti dinner when word came arrived just after 3 p.m. that he should evacuate. He called Allison at work and she rushed home to help pack.
As the couple stood in a parking lot blocks from who knows what remained, they kidded that such a delicious meal would go to waste. Yet, having their most valuable possessions packed in their car and their Bengal cat staring miserably at them from a kennel, the O’Tooles were in good spirits.
They laughed when relating what a police officer on a bullhorn said to Mickey when it was time to evacuate.
“I was hugging my friend good-bye and the deputy yelled, ‘Quit your hugging and get out of here!'”
But the gravity of the situation wasn’t lost on them.
“Everyone said they were waiting for the big one,” Mickey said. “This is the big one.”
When Travis Chatwin left his Gardner Street house, he admitted it was at the last minute.
“I left when I saw 100-foot flames in my back yard.”
His proof is the video footage he captured on his digital camera — monster flames shoot up the trees. A group of firefighters in the foreground look tiny against the wall of fire.
At the end of Clement Street, Betty Johnson sat on a log Tuesday morning and watched as fire crews lit backfires on the ridge behind her home.
She said she was so impressed with the work they were doing, she went inside to bake cookies for them.
Johnson was able to deliver only a dozen. When she took them outdoors for the crew, a new fire was rushing toward her.
“They were doing their job with the backfire, but it was the winds,” she said. “The winds were supposed to be calm today.”
She drove away from her house leaving behind three fire engines that had stationed there.
“They were great guys from San Leandro and El Cerrito fire departments,” she said. “They said, ‘We’ll do everything we can to save your house.'”
Todd Chapanot, fire information officer for the Angora fire, said the evacuations Tuesday came from fire embers finding new fuel.
“It started several spot fires, but we got those extinguished,” he said. “About 200 (additional) acres were consumed.”
Chapanot said the backfire did not cause Tuesday’s blazes.
“There was a back burn, but the back burn wouldn’t have been the cause of these spot fires,” he said.