October 13, 2008

Angel Island on Fire

By Brent Ainsworth

Fire erupted on the slopes of Angel Island on Sunday night, prompting fire crews from several Marin County agencies and United States Coast Guard personnel to be dispatched to the state park in San Francisco Bay.

At 11:35 p.m., the fire was estimated at 75 to 100 acres by Marin County Fire Department's public information officer Mike Giannini.

"That number will change as we move through the evening," Giannini said.

The island is 240 acres.

Giannini said 10 to 12 campers were on the island, but that they were in a safe area and not in any danger.

Firefighter Ian Adams of the county fire department said the crews fighting the blaze are from Southern Marin, Tiburon and Marin County Fire departments. About 30 personnel had been ferried to the docks on the north side of the island at Ayala Cove, but that number was expected to climb to about 100 overnight.

Giannini said there were two engines on the island -one that is stationed there and another ferried over. Fireboats from Tiburon, Sausalito and the U.S. Coast Guard were sent to the island.

The use of helicopters was discussed early on, according to Petty Officer Aaron Coffin of the Coast Guard, but that was ruled out as darkness fell. Giannini said hand crews would work overnight and the question of air support would be brought up Monday morning.

It's estimated that the fire started at about 9 p.m. There was no word on the cause.

For hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents with bay views, the fire was front-and-center viewing on a cool, clear autumn night.

Early reports pinpointed the location as the east side of Angel Island, but Adams said it had spread to the southwest side.

"That area is very dense (with brush), which makes it much more difficult to fight," Giannini said.

Flames were visible from the East Bay as residents in the Berkeley hills were calling their local fire departments to find out more about the fire.

"We're getting a lot of 911 calls right now," Adams said at about 10 p.m.

The Hornblower yacht left Sausalito at about 9 p.m. with hundreds of revelers celebrating the final night of the Mill Valley Film Festival. After a trip out to the Golden Gate Bridge, the boat sailed toward Angel Island and gave the crowd - mostly volunteers from the festival plus some directors and producers from independent films - an amazing view of the blaze.

"It was awesome to see," said Eric Yahnke of San Rafael, who was on the Hornblower with his friend Nathan Hall. "Everybody was out on the deck (of the boat) taking photographs."

"When the yacht turned," Hall added, "everybody would go to the other side to keep watching it. Everyone had their cell phones out and their cameras."

At Guaymas, a waterfront restaurant in Tiburon, late-night diners ventured outside to watch the action.

"We had two different shows today - first the Blue Angels and now this," general manager Edson Palacios said, referring to the Fleet Week air show that also took place Sunday.

Palacios said he watched ferries make five or six trips between the Tiburon dock and the island dock. "They are just bringing firefighters," he said. "I haven't seen engines."

The view from Tiburon was mostly of the orange glow from flames on the other side of Angel Island, Palacios said. "We can't see any flames from here, just the orange," he said.

Angel Island State Park is 240 acres. It has many historic buildings left over from the days when it served as an important immigration station for the West Coast as well as a military facility.

Contact Brent Ainsworth via e-mail at [email protected]

Originally published by Brent Ainsworth, Medianews staff.

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