Firefighters are battling a 128-acre brush fire near "The Dish," a grassy open area west of the Stanford University main campus, along Junipero Serra Boulevard.
No structures are threatened, no lives have been harmed, and no evacuations are planned, according to Barbara Cimino, spokesperson for the Palo Alto Fire Department.
The cause of the fire was a malfunctioning water-pump generator. It was near the observatory, but the observatory is secure and Dish is not threatened, she said.
While the fire had not been 100 percent contained as of 6:30 p.m., Cimino said she expected it to be contained "shortly."
Cimino said that the State of California had declared fire season early this year.
"This is going to be a tough fire season for all of California," she said.
Firefighters will be at the scene most of the night monitoring hot spots, she added.
The blaze drew a response from numerous firefighting units, including the Santa Clara County Fire Department, Gilroy and Morgan Hill firefighters, a strike team from San Mateo County, and the Cal FIRE/California Department of Forestry.
Cal FIRE firefighters in helicopters were spraying the fire with liquid from red buckets, witnesses said. Cimino said fire personnel were simultaneously working the perimeter of the fire.
The incident area is called the Junipero Serra/Frenchman's area and includes the foothills north of Page Mill Road, east of Highway 280 and west of Junipero Serra. The blaze is consuming coyote brush and oak trees, Cimino said.
The smoke drew the attention of residents and commuters throughout the mid-Peninsula.
"It looks pretty big. You can see the fire. You can see the smoke," a spokesperson from the Stanford public safety office said at about 4:30 p.m.
Traffic in the area was jammed as portions of Junipero Serra and Page Mill Road were closed.
The Palo Alto Fire Department received a call about the fire at approximately 4 p.m.
Anne Chang, who lives on Stanford land east of Junipero Serra, said she got home at 4 p.m and saw a bright red flame on the northern part of the Dish. It spread southward toward the hiking trails and the hay-stack sculptures.
Another resident, Professor Norman Naimark, was standing by his home at around 6 p.m. and watching the commotion.
"It looks like we don't have to evacuate," he said.
An update on the containment of the blaze is available here.