Marsh fire destroys one home, threatens 100s

By Tamara Steiner on August 6, 2018

Marsh-5 fire for websiteSmoke, flames and fear are becoming a way of life in California as dozens of wildfires rage across the state, devouring homes and taking lives.

On July 25, Clayton added 275 acres and one home to the state’s grim statistics as a very fast moving, hot fire threatened to take out more than 100 homes in the Marsh Creek/Morgan Territory canyon.

The fire started in a grassy field at the County Detention Facility, just a few yards from the Cal Fire Sunshine Station on Marsh Creek Rd. It immediately went to four alarms.

When CalFire Assistant Chief Mike Marcucci got the call, he was in Sacramento and immediately headed toward Clayton. He could see the smoke from the freeway and knew it was big trouble.

“I thought the whole canyon would go up,” he told the Pioneer. “I figured if we could hold the losses to 30 homes, we’d be lucky.”

When the fire was first reported at 2:40 p.m. it was at 25 acres. By 5 p.m. it had spread to 225 acres and more than 200 homes in Marsh Creek and Morgan Territory were evacuated. PG&E cut power around 4:30. Cell service in the area is sketchy so most homes were left with no outside communication. Officers from the Sheriff’s department went door to door with evacuation orders.

Buldozers, engines and equipment from Cal Fire, East County Fire and several surrounding agencies fought to slow the fire while four helicopters, eight tankers and one VLT—Very Large Tanker battled from overhead. Faced with the imminent threat to lives, the air tankers were on a “no divert” order, meaning they could not be called off the Marsh fire to another fire somewhere else.

On the ground, flames raced ahead of firefighters within minutes consuming a home on Aspara Drive. Neighbors scrambled to get pets and livestock out of the rugged area.

John Khashabi, an area resident had a 500 gallon fire truck that he bought several years ago to water his dad’s fruit trees. Khashabi is an experienced firefighter and former cop. He is also a good neighbor. He teamed up with local resident Gabe Sobb and together the pair assisted firefighters called in from outside the area to locate gates, back roads and water tanks.

On the hill where flames were threatening Josh Thompson’s ranch, Khashabi turned his hose on the stucco home. The house was saved, but the infrastructure burned leaving the ranch with no power, water or septic tank. It will take months to rebuild.

Temperatures were well above 100 degrees as firefighters from Cal Fire, East County Fire and six surrounding agencies fought for containment.

Evacuees gathered at the road closure at Marsh Creek and Morgan Territory. Some stayed at roadside around the clock. A few others waited it out at the Clayton Library where Red Cross set up a shelter.

By Saturday, the fire was 100 percent contained and crews were mopping up.

We sat down with Marcucci and some of the firefighters that had been on the line all week. Ready for showers and a few hours of down time, they were exhausted but victorious. One home was lost, but no lives and no livestock.

I have lived on Morgan Territory Road for more than 40 years through fires and landslides. Just five years ago, we watched flames eat up 3100 acres on Mt. Diablo.

With every near disaster, I am more grateful for the firefighters that suit up and show up in 105 degrees to put the fire out. And I’m especially grateful to neighbors that look out for each other.

Watch for a future story on our firefighters and why they do what they do.

Previous post:

Next post: