News

Stanford foothills scorched in 128-acre blaze

Commuters caught in gridlock as firefighters from two counties battle flames

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.

The fire threatened structures in the area of Old Page Mill and Page Mill roads and prompted a voluntary evacuation of homes, but no structures were damaged and no injuries to residents or firefighters were reported.

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.

Related stories:

  • Human activity likely sparked 128-acre fire

  • Grass fire breaks out at Stanford Dish

  • Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

    — Bay City News Service

    Comments

    There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

    Post a comment

    Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

    We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

    Name: *

    Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

    Choose a category: *

    Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

    Comment: *

    Verification code: *
    Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

    *Required Fields

    Touring the Southern California “Ivies:” Pomona and Cal Tech
    By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 5 comments | 2,971 views

    Chai Brisket
    By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 2,129 views

    Couples: Parallel Play or Interactive Play?
    By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,289 views

    Sometimes "I'm Sorry" Doesn't Cut It
    By Cheryl Bac | 7 comments | 1,200 views

    SJSU Center for Steinbeck Studies to Honor Author Khaled Hosseini on Weds Sept 10
    By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 754 views