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A fire leads the teams to the crawl space of the highway in which one person lived

Firefighters made a startling discovery when they responded to reports of a fire inside a freeway overpass in Sacramento over the weekend.

Light smoke was billowing from an open cavity under the Highway 160 overpass when fire crews arrived around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, department spokesman Keith Wade said. Authorities said someone had removed the access panel, which is typically used for maintenance, and lived inside.

Photos from the scene show two firefighters extracting a double-sized burnt mattress from the belly of the bridge. They also found an end table and other personal effects, Wade said, but not the occupant of the space.

“The problem is… you could have a fire big enough that would impact this bridge and cause internal damage to critical infrastructure,” Wade said.

Before firefighters could enter the cramped 4-by-4-foot opening, special measures had to be taken to monitor toxic gases and fumes that can build up in confined spaces, officials said.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear and no injuries were reported. Caltrans is responsible for assessing any internal damage to the pavement.

Fires inside a highway overpass are not uncommon, but Wade said it was only the third he can remember in 20 years.

“This is not a recurring situation, but our message from our department would be that it is not a safe place to occupy,” he said.