Grass fire along Highway 41 near Friant Ave spreads to nearby homes

Flames grew so intense that smoke could be seen for miles, but it was the wind that was the biggest challenge for the more than 50 firefighters working to protect the neighborhood.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Unseasonably warm conditions proved dangerous in north Fresno as a grass fire along Highway 41 near Blackstone spread to nearby homes.

Flames grew so intense that smoke could be seen for miles, but it was the wind that was the biggest challenge for the more than 50 firefighters working to protect the neighborhood.

So many resources were called to the fire that off-duty crews were called in to back-fill the rest of the city.

Four homes were damaged, including Claude and Joy Thompson's. Their daughter was home as flames inched toward their house.

Joy said, "She could've gotten killed and we could've lost our home. Thank goodness we didn't."

Though the cause remains under investigation, the Thompsons say they've had problems with people using their backyard to cut across the freeway to Woodward Park.

Claude described the terrifying moments flames reached their yard: "Half the backyard was on fire. All the trees were on fire, the flames were coming toward the house. At that point, all I could do was try a garden hose, but at that point, I got overwhelmed by the heat."

Flames spread to their chimney but fire crews were able to stop the spread before any serious damage happened to the home.

"As the weather starts to heat up, we typically think of the mountain communities and the fire dangers they're surrounded by," Fresno's Deputy Fire Marshal Jay Tracy said.

Tracy stressed the importance of always having an escape plan, and that's not limited to evacuating your home.

He said it includes "knowing your neighborhood, knowing the streets and knowing ways you can get out of your neighborhood quickly if needed."

Exit routes were limited in this neighborhood.

"Lots of dead ends, lots of cul-de-sacs, streets that don't go through and that's just because of the angle of the freeway," said Tracy.

Almost immediately after Tracy spoke to Action News on Thursday afternoon, Fresno fire crews were called to another grass fire at highway 168 and McKinley. That marked the 93rd grass fire of this year alone.

That's up 10% compared to this time last year.
Copyright © 2020 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.