A 500-hectare grass fire burning on both sides of Interstate 580 at the Altamont Pass shut off the freeway in both directions for several hours on Sunday evening, causing some motorists to flee in the wrong direction along the deadlocked road.

The California Highway Patrol reopened the western lanes around 9:30 pm. and opened the eastern side about an hour later.

It was an all-rounder, "said Joe O & Connor from Menlo Park, who returned from Yosemite National Park with his wife Jessica Yurasek on Sunday night. They got off the motorway at the Altamont Pass exit.

They described grass fires on both sides of the highway, with much of the hill burning black.

"We could feel the heat in the car," Yurasek said.

The Grant Fire was first reported at 17:38. near Grant Line Road in Alameda County. The fire was on Sunday night 20 percent included, according to the fire department of Alameda County.

Drivers in the area reported heavy smoke and flames on both sides of the highway. Some had to turn in front of the Altamont pass.

Chronologist Erin Allday returned to the Bay Area on Sunday afternoon with her sister and brother-in-law after visiting her parents in Arnold (Calaveras County) when they saw smoke in the distance near the pass.

"It did not look very big, and I did not think the fire was right on the highway," she said.

Then the traffic on the western lanes came to a halt. Some riders tried to escape by driving in the wrong direction on the shoulders of the Interstate.

"People started turning around and driving in the opposite direction on the highway, and that's never a good sign," Allday said. "It was pretty messy."

She and her companions decided instead to go forward. Soon they were walking on both sides of the road through the flames.

"They were not very high flames, but they were right on the edge of the freeway and you could feel the heat," said Allday. "You could actually hear the crackle."

From the size of the burnt area on the hills, it looked like the fire had been burning for a while, she said. It took about a minute to get through the flames. On the other hand, they saw that the eastbound traffic was secured for maybe five miles, Allday said.

Early on Sunday, a grass fire lit east of San Ramon and quickly burned 56 acres. The fire was first reported around 4:45 pm. near Bruce Drive and Joseph Lane in the Tassajara area, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It was 90 percent contained at 19.30.

A third Sunday night fire, a five-hectare vegetation fire in Vallejo, prompted officials to ask that nearby residents stay protected inside. It was completely closed at 9pm.

Catherine Ho and David R. Baker are employees of the San Francisco Chronicle. E-mail: cho@sfchronicle.com, dbaker@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Cat_Ho. @DavidBakerSF


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