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Fire blazes by campus

Mills College Weekly

Students watched as helicopters doused water on a five-alarm blaze off Highway 580 Tuesday afternoon before the 15 acre fire was put out.

Six helicopters and five air tankers were visible from campus as 150 firefighters fought to contain the flames.

The fire was put out by 2:20 p.m., but fire crews will stay on the scene through today to watch for flare-ups, said Oakland Fire Department battalion chief James Williams. The Oakland Police Department helicopter will be scanning the area with infrared technology to watch for hot spots.

Although students and faculty going to lunch could see the fire’s smoke, which was about one to one and a half miles from campus, most were confident that the fire wouldn’t cause any problems.

“I saw it was small and I thought it was containable,” said women’s studies professor Libby Potter, who lives near the Oak Knoll neighborhood where the fire broke out. She said she was pleased to see the quick response by the Oakland Fire Department. “It was good to see them out there,” Potter said.

Steven King, director of public safety, said that despite dry conditions which could encourage fire, the campus has managed to avoid a flare up.

“It is a concern, but we take extra precautions,” said King. “The fire department comes out every now and then to inspect the campus.”

According to Williams, the fire was caused by a work crew hired to cut vegetation. One of their tools had a metal blade which hit something flammable and caused a spark.

Williams said the worker tried to quenched the fire with an extinguisher, but the fire was too big.

Only one house was damaged in the flames.

The fire brought back memories of the 1991 Oakland Hills fire for many residents. In that blaze more than 2,500 homes were destroyed or damaged, including economics professor Nancy Thornborrow’s house.

The 1991 fire had been doused like this one, but a hot spot caused uncontrollable flames to return just one day later.

Low winds, at 10 mph compared to 35 mph winds in 1991, helped keep the flames from spreading fire officials said.

A summer of wild fires left most of the West worried about fire danger. This week will be sunny with temperatures in the mid to high 80’s, and a zero percent precipitation. Continuing high temperatures fan fire fears.