Fire Engine Crashes into Car in California, Killing Passenger

A fire engine on its way to battle a grass fire headed into tragedy Sunday afternoon when it struck a Toyota Corolla that apparently had failed to yield, killing a passenger.

The firetruck, with lights blazing and siren on, was heading east on Camino Diablo about 2:50 p.m. in response to a 1,000-acre grass fire in Byron, said Richard Carpenter, the Contra Costa fire marshal.

It hit a Toyota Corolla traveling north on Vasco Road, then struck a Dodge van that had pulled to the shoulder of westbound Camino Diablo, said Officer Cliff Kroeger of the California Highway Patrol.

The Corolla driver appeared to have failed to yield to the firetruck, said CHP Sgt. Keith Marsden.

Three women in the Corolla were flown to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. The front passenger died at the hospital, and the driver was in critical condition, the CHP said. The third passenger's condition was not available.

The dead woman's identity was withheld pending notification of family members, a coroner's deputy said. An autopsy is scheduled for today.

A 2-year-old girl a 16-year-old girl inside the van were taken to Children's Hospital Oakland, where they were treated for minor injuries, Kroeger said. The 2-year-old was not in a child safety seat, he said.

Three firefighters aboard the engine were taken to a local hospital, where they were treated for minor injuries and released, police said.

Investigators are looking into the cause of the crash, Kroeger said. Investigators consider the crash unusual because a fire vehicle was involved.

"We still have to talk to some people and find out what the traffic signal looked like at the time," Kroeger said. "We have witnesses to talk to before we can sit down and get all the facts."

Vasco Road has been declared a county safety corridor, where CHP officers conduct more patrols and traffic-calming efforts. The declaration came after a task force was formed in response to a high number of fatal crashes along Vasco. Since Jan. 1, 2003, 12 people have died on the two-lane road, including Sunday's death.

A proposal to double the fines for moving violations on the road, which is a communter artery connecting East County with the Tri-Valley, advanced in the Legislature last week.

Meanwhile, the blaze the fire engine was responding to continued to burn in Byron. The fire started about 2:40 p.m. near Vasco and Armstrong roads and spread east toward the Byron Airport.

The blaze was initially reported as 200 to 300 acres, but quickly grew to about 1,000 acres by 6 p.m., Carpenter said.

"It's wind-driven and there were structures threatened from the beginning," he said.

Units from the California Department of Forestry and the Contra Costa Fire District were battling the blaze. Carpenter said the CDF expected to have the fire under control by 10 p.m.

The cause of the fire and the accident are under investigation.

Distributed by the Associated Press