A grass fire that burned an estimated 173 acres along the American River Parkway and prompted the evacuation of Cal Expo on Thursday was caused by “human activity,” according to fire investigators.
A statement released Friday by the Sacramento Fire Department said investigators “cannot state whether the blaze was accidentally or intentionally set.”
Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Chris Harvey said in an interview that there are “homeless camps up and down the American River Parkway,” but the exact cause of the fire has not been pinpointed.
“They’re still interviewing witnesses. It’s very difficult right now to tell how it started,” Harvey said.
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Harvey said fire units were dispatched at 1:13 p.m. Thursday, with a second alarm sounded shortly thereafter as the blaze spread quickly amid dry grass and breezy conditions.
At the height of the fire, officials said more than 30 engines and 130 firefighters were involved. Equipment on the scene included bulldozers and helicopters.
An unidentified Sacramento firefighter from Engine 19 showed symptoms of excessive smoke inhalation while battling the flames. He was taken to an area hospital, where he was treated Thursday night and released.
Cal Expo spokeswoman Sabrina Rodriguez said two events – an RV show and rental housing association conference – were being held on the venue grounds and had to shut down about 2 p.m. Thursday due to the fire. Rodriguez said event participants and staff members left the property. Cal Expo also moved its monorail trains as the fire was burning near the monorail barn.
Jim Lofgren, executive director of the Rental Housing Association of the Sacramento Valley, said about 1,000 people attending the association’s annual one-day conference were directed to leave Cal Expo.
The American River Parkway was closed Thursday afternoon as firefighters, trucks and heavy equipment moved into the area. Park rangers used loudspeakers to announce that the parkway was now off limits. The bike trail was reopened Friday morning.
Harvey said that as the fire spread eastward, “there was a possibility of neighborhood evacuations” along the west side of the Howe Avenue corridor south of Arden Way. However, evacuations were called off when the eastward spread of the fire was stopped near Ethan Way.
Harvey said overhead power lines in the area began arcing due to high flames and heat, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District turned off the lines. Nearby residents as well as some homes in Davis and West Sacramento reported power surges and some power loss during the fire, Harvey said.
Firefighters also had to deal with spot fires as winds blew embers into dry grass bordering the path of the main fire.
Heavy smoke blanketed the area around Cal Expo well into Thursday night, although main commute routes remained open during Thursday’s rush hour. No other injuries were reported.
Harvey reported at about 5 p.m. Thursday that the fire was contained. Fire crews remained on the scene Friday mopping up and dealing with fire-damaged trees that posed a hazard. Harvey said some hot spots likely would continue to smolder for several days.
The Sacramento Fire Department was assisted by Metro Fire, West Sacramento and Cosumnes fire crews.
Officials said the borders of the burned area are Capital City Freeway on the west, the Cal Expo levee on the north, the American River bike trail on the south and the site of a previous 45-acre grass fire on the east side, near Ethan Way.