Firefighters battle wildfire on Angel Island

Firefighters battle wildfire on Angel Island

13 October 2008

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USA — Firefighters made significant progress Monday against a wildfire that charred more than half ofSan Francisco Bay‘s largest island but spared scores of historical structures, some dating back to the American Civil War.

The blaze onAngel Island, which had spread to 380 acres since it started around 8 p.m. Sunday, was 75 percent contained by Monday afternoon, state park officials said.

“It’s looking really good now,” said fire spokeswomanSandy Wargo. “Weather is going to dictate how quickly the fire is contained.”

More than 250 firefighters, about 20 fire engines and other equipment were ferried to the 740-acre island by boat and barge to corral the blaze. No injuries have been reported.

The wildfire started near some campsites and forced the evacuation of about 30 campers Sunday night, officials said. The cause of the wildfire is still under investigation.

The island offMarin County is home to more than 120 historical structures, including a military garrison built during the Civil War and an immigration station that was the first stop for millions of immigrants, mostly fromChina, in the early 1900s. It’s also a popular hiking and biking destination easily accessed by ferry from nearby Tiburon.

The fire destroyed one abandoned water tank, but none of the island’s historical structures have been damaged, said park superintendentDave Matthews. Power to the island had been cut off for safety reasons.

“Many of the historical buildings were threatened. That would have been a significant loss to the cultural history ofCalifornia,” Matthews said. “Fortunately, the firefighters saved what he had.”

Shooting flames and plumes of heavy smoke streaming from the island could be seen from miles away, and the smell of charred vegetation permeated surrounding communities.

On the island itself, helicopters dropped water on open flames Monday, while firefighters cleared brush and dug fire lines against the backdrop of theSan Francisco skyline andGolden Gate Bridge.

The island, which is a state park, would be closed to visitors for at least one to two weeks, Matthews said. The park had planned to give journalists a preview of a $15 million restoration of the Angel Island Immigration Station on Tuesday, but that event was canceled.

Officials said it was the largest wildfire on the island that they could remember. The last major fire burned 25 acres three years ago.

The fire will eventually help rejuvenate the island’s chaparral and woodland ecosystems, but could leave the land vulnerable to erosion and mudslides during the winter rainy season, Matthews said.

Park officials planned to search the charred grounds for cultural artifacts such as old cannonballs and horseshoes that may have been uncovered by the fire, he said.

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