Oakland firefighters mopping the hill next to where the car fire broke out. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

A fire spread uphill at 6 p.m. on Monday along I-580 westbound near the Seminary Avenue off-ramp, causing evacuations from nearby homes, gridlock on the freeway, and prompting a rushed response from the Oakland Fire Department to contain the flames in a heavily forested area. 

Monday night’s fire was caused by a pickup truck that ignited on the freeway shoulder. It was the third fire on I-580 in three weeks. Last Tuesday an arson lit three small fires in the brush near the Coolidge/Fruitvale offramp, and the one a week before, another fire spread on the highway embankment near 35th Avenue, damaging several homes and injuring a firefighter. The cause of that fire is still under investigation.

The car fire on I-580 off the Seminary off-ramp spread up the dry vegetation along the freeway right below the Monte Villas homes. Credit: Enrique Soriano

OFD Batallion Chief Linda Buell told the press on Monday night that this was a 4-alarm fire. The flames burned uphill between 3 to 5 acres and came within 40 to 50 yards of the Monte Vista Villas homes along Blue Rock Court. Up to 70 firefighters responded to the blaze.

According to Oakland Fire Department spokesperson Michael Hunt, the fire was contained at around 7:30 p.m. Fremont’s Fire Department provided an infrared drone to help detect any hotspots. In addition, an engine remained on site to monitor the area throughout the night. 

Although no structures were damaged and no injuries were reported, some neighbors were evacuated as a precaution. 

Donna Shields and her family reside at one of the homes the fire briefly threatened. 

“I just heard them say this was a two-alarm. Then, they said it was going to be upped to a two or three,” Shields said. “And then they said, ‘you need to get out of here.’ So I did.”

Shields and her family moved to Oakland last October after their home in El Cerrito was destroyed by a small fire. “We had just got out of a fire, and we were lucky then that we were able to get my 91-year-old mother out of the house,” she said. “We’re blessed because we’re still alive. But this fire kind of freaked me out a little bit.”

“I could see the fire coming over the hill,” she said. “I could see the orange coming over our way.” Shields also alerted the firefighters that there was no way to easily access the hill with overgrown and dried vegetation from the back of her home, as it is on a steep hill. 

Like other neighbors that the Oaklandside spoke to who live along I-580 where fires have broken out, they are worried that the overgrown vegetation along the highway has become a hazard that causes fires to quickly spread and possibly threaten homes. 

“I do hope that the fire department gets in touch with whoever is responsible for the vegetation,” she said.” ‘With the dryness and the drought we are going through, they need to do something about it.”

A few hours after the highway fire, a structure fire broke out in Fruitvale on East 17th Street and 33rd Avenue. According to the Oakland Fire Department, the cause of the fire in Fruitvale remains unknown.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.