Multiple fires that broke out along the sides of Highways 99 and 180 in central Fresno on Wednesday evening are considered suspicious and are under investigation by the Fresno Fire Department.
Meanwhile, a brush fire erupted in the same area Thursday that led to renewed ramp closures, according to the CHP website.
Firefighters were seeking a Caltrans water truck, while CHP monitored traffic from eastbound Highway 180 to southbound Highway 99, Battalion Chief Lawrence French said.
“We can’t pinpoint the cause, but due to the frequency of the incidents and the proximity from one to another, we believe there might be an individual traveling,” French said Thursday.
Thursday’s roadside fire was contained to a little under one acre in the area of Dunn and Modoc streets west of Highway 99, French said.
Fire crews who responded to the fire had been on duty for 30 hours and had fought Wednesday’s fires.
“They’re pretty worn out,” French said.
The Fresno Police Department assisted with air support and Cal Fire also helped out.
French said wind speeds of 5 to 10 mph were a concern. Heavy smoke traveled through the Sequoia Courts apartments, right across from the brush fire.
Marisol Avelar, 29, had arrived home from the grocery store when she saw smoke fill the area.
“We left the groceries in the car,” Avelar said. “I missed yesterday’s fire.”
Anyone with information on suspicious activity is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 559-498-STOP (7867), French said.
Fresno fire spokesman Hector Vasquez said Thursday that 11 fires were reported over a few hours Wednesday evening along the two major highways. He said there’s “nothing but speculation” about possible suspects.
Vasquez could not provide an estimate on how much it cost the Fresno Fire Department and other agencies to combat the blazes.
The fires were first reported around 8 p.m. Firefighters also battled two house fires in central Fresno on Wednesday evening.
Throughout the evening, the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans ordered ramp closures so firefighters could battle blazes near the Highways 99/180 interchange.
Because of the large number of fires, the Fire Department requested assistance at 9:30 p.m. from neighboring fire agencies, including Clovis and Cal Fire, and it suspended medical aid calls, which were being handled solely by American Ambulance. In addition, off-duty Fresno firefighters were asked to report for duty.
Twenty-three of Fresno’s 25 units were responding to calls from 7:59 p.m. to 8:37 p.m., Vasquez said. A strike team of units from other fire agencies, including Selma, were called to provide backup fire coverage for Fresno. Vasquez said he could recall only one other time when the strike team was called out to assist.
In 2015, a string of major fires in 72 hours forced Fresno fire to call in a strike team.
Because the fires erupted on both sides of the freeway, they are suspicious, Vasquez said. Arson investigators will attempt to determine the cause of the fires.
Firefighters had to leave the freeways to refill tankers because their trucks were running out of water. No water hydrants are along the freeway where the fires broke out.
Bee writers Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado, Krysta Scripter, Paul Schlesinger and Madisen Steele contributed to the story.