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Rash of suspicious freeway fires force evacuations, cause crashes on Highway 99

Battling grass fire along Highway 99 in Fresno

Fresno firefighters battled a grass fire on Highway 99 near the Highway 180 interchange on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.
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Fresno firefighters battled a grass fire on Highway 99 near the Highway 180 interchange on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.

A rash of suspicious fires along Highway 99 near downtown Fresno taxed firefighter resources, caused several collisions and forced evacuations of a school and a courthouse Tuesday morning.

The fires erupted at 8:40 a.m. between Fresno Street and Belmont Avenue, sending large clouds of smoke drifting across the city. Fire spokesman Hector Vasquez said 50 firefighters rushed to the blazes, which burned dry grass along the freeway and also threatened a home on North Tielman Avenue.

The blazes forced the fire department to suspend medical emergency responses for about 45 minutes. The heavy smoke set off smoke alarms, forcing the evacuation of Gaston Middle School, on the 1100 block of East Church Avenue. Vasquez said Fresno County Superior Court also was partially evacuated because of smoke.

Because no fire hydrants exist along the freeway, water tenders were brought in to supply trucks fighting the fires.

“It definitely taxed our resources,” Vasquez said.

The heavy smoke obscured the roadway along Highway 99, several drivers were involved in collisions and a firefighting truck barely avoided a crash, Vasquez said.

The blazes were reminiscent of a rash of fires that erupted along Highway 99 in July, and fire investigators are trying to determine if an arsonist set the new blazes.

A series of spot fires at the interchange of highways 180 and 99 in downtown Fresno slowed morning commuters Tuesday, August 30, 2016.

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