A blackened Stanford Dish hiking trail was closed Tuesday following a blaze that consumed 128 acres of the foothills between Highway 280 and Junipero Serra Boulevard Monday afternoon and evening.
Firefighters from units as far south as Gilroy and aerial support from Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) responded to the conflagration, which broke out at around 4 p.m.
Cal Fire first received word at 4:13 p.m.
The cause was believed to be a malfunctioning water-pump generator, Palo Alto Fire Department spokesperson Barbara Cimino said Monday. On Tuesday, she indicated that an investigation into the cause was ongoing.
Plumes of smoke emanating from the fire could be spotted from miles away.
"You can see it from at least 30 miles away," a witness driving on U.S. Highway 101 in Belmont reported. "The entire sky is filled with smoke -- big plumes of gray and white smoke," she said.
It was 100 percent contained by 7:30 p.m. Monday evening, according to Palo Alto police and fire communication manager Charlie Cullen.
Hao Thai, a science and engineering associate at Stanford University, was inside the university's Wilcox Solar Observatory on Reservoir Road when the wind started blowing the fire south towards the observatory. He noticed smoke dimming the sunlight as he took magnetic field measurements of the sun.
Then he began to hear sirens, and firefighters arrived. The flames hit the 15-foot fire break surrounding his building and went around, he said.
Firefighters told Thai to "hunker down" and stay inside.
"They knew what they were doing, so I didn't worry too much," he said -- while adding that it was nonetheless a scary experience.
On Tuesday, joggers and hikers streamed to Dish trailhead at Stanford Avenue and Junipero Serra, hopeful of taking a morning walk and viewing the fire damage. However, they were turned away. An officer from the Stanford Department of Public Safety said that hot spots could still ignite up to 48 hours following a blaze.
Firefighters remained in the area, but all nearby streets were open.
From the trailhead, patches of blackened earth could be seen about 30 yards beyond the "hay people" sculptures that dot the hill.
The blaze drew a response from numerous firefighting units in addition to the Palo Alto Fire Department, including the Santa Clara County Fire Department, Gilroy and Morgan Hill firefighters, a strike team from San Mateo County, and Cal Fire.
Cal Fire firefighters in helicopters sprayed the fire with liquid from red buckets, witnesses said. Cimino said fire personnel simultaneously worked 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 consumed coyote brush and oak trees, Cimino said.
The smoke drew the attention of residents and commuters throughout the mid-Peninsula.
Traffic in the area was jammed as portions of Junipero Serra and Page Mill Road were closed.
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 Stanford Avenue trailhead.
Another resident, 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.
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.
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