Car avoids deer, sparks fire in Palo Alto hills

Brush fire under control, no injuries along Page Mill Road

A fire in the Palo Alto hills burned 1.5 acres on Friday afternoon, June 13, after a car swerved to avoid a deer, hit a ditch and caught fire, Palo Alto fire officials said.

The fire was reported at 2:13 p.m. in the Foothills Open Space area, which is owned by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. The male driver in a compact Audi told officials he was heading west on Page Mill Road and attempted to avoid the deer on a hairpin turn. He lost control of the car, which then hit a ditch and embankment and caught fire, said Geo Blackshire, Palo Alto Fire Department deputy chief of operations.

Lester Hendry, Palo Alto Open Space District supervising ranger, said he was alerted to the blaze after hearing a radio report from a Midpeninsula maintenance employee. He arrived on scene to find the car engulfed in flames, he said.

The fire burned at a moderate speed through oak woodland and brush, Blackshire said. No one was injured, he added.

Eight engines from multiple agencies responded, including the Palo Alto Fire, CalFire and Santa Clara County Fire departments, Blackshire said. The Palo Alto Police Department, Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services and rangers from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District were also on scene, said Ken Dueker, director of city emergency services.

A fixed-wing aircraft dropped fire retardant, and a helicopter dropped water on the fire, Blackshire said.

Personnel from Palo Alto Fire Station 8, in Foothills Park, responded. The station usually opens June 30 but opened June 1 this year due to dry conditions, Blackshire said.

"It turned out to be the right decision. The next closest station is Station 2 on Hanover (in the valley near Stanford Research Park)," he said.

The fire was under control as of about 3:45 p.m., but Page Mill remained closed at Arastradero while crews put out hotspots and cut a fire break, Blackshire said. As of 4:30 p.m., the road closure was moved up to Foothills Park on Page Mill.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2014 at 5:12 pm

We drive up here frequently and have often wondered what would happen when there was a serious incident - usually thinking about 2 vehicles colliding rather than a deer being involved. It would of course involve closing the road completely to all traffic including bikes. There is probably no cell phone signals on a large part of this road. Pleased nobody was hurt this time and feel for those who need to drive this road on a daily basis.

Posted by Skeptomaniac, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 13, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Did they bother to check this guy for drugs or alcohol? I've driven around the hills for many years and have always managed not to hit deer. [Portion removed.]

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Jun 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm

A driver doesn't have to be drunk to hit a deer on a dark rural road -- deer, and many other animals, can dart into the road without warning. Sometimes the driver is killed when he/she swerves.

Glad you've been lucky so far.

Posted by Moto Guzzi, a resident of Professorville
on Jun 13, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Used to ride my cafe racer up here, until a resident told me how often he had hit deer--particularly in November--the "rut" season on his Harley, that I finally avoided it all together.

Posted by Skeptomaniac, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 13, 2014 at 8:36 pm

neighbor ... maybe, could be ... but I'm just guessing, unlikely.

Do you ever drive up in the hills? So you ever drive around the hairpins up there ... you have to really, really have to slow down ... and anymore there is not much cover for a deer to dart out from, but even so - my limited imagination can only imagine someone hitting the brake and either hitting or not hitting the deer ... not spinning out and crashing. I could be wrong ... but I wonder what story the skid marks show and if we will ever find out? Did anyone see a deer, the are not usually alone. At the very least going way too fast.

Posted by Been There, Done That, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 13, 2014 at 9:01 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Skeptomaniac, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 13, 2014 at 9:20 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by job well done, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 13, 2014 at 9:59 pm

A rapid and coordinated response from multiple fire fighting agencies ensured this situation did not get out of control. Especially critical during current drought conditions. Job well done.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2014 at 11:02 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Skeptomaniac - I rarely drive way up in the hills above Woodside, but I still had an animal careen down a hill, into the top side of my vehicle, then bound away. It was night, I was sober, driving slowly, with a friend in the car. It was all I could do to maintain control because it was so startling, so loud and sudden. My friend and I never figured out what it was, but we still talk about it. No, it wasn't a cyclist or a kangaroo, or even Sasquatch. It's all too easy to lose control of a vehicle when trying to a avoid a deer, or even a squirrel.

Heck, I know a guy who crashed when trying to avoid a herd of cows. He awoke to find his car surrounded by worried cows all mooing at him. Thankfully they were so loud they attracted attention, and that's how he got help. True story.

Posted by dear deer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2014 at 11:32 pm

I was driving down the 1 at night, when a deer jumped over my hood from the BEACH side. Scared the bejeezus out of me and by the looks of her eyeballs, she was just as freaked. Just saying, deer are not super good at navigating traffic.

Posted by Katie, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 14, 2014 at 8:29 am

Great Job by PAFD for staffing the Foothills station early! If they were not there I can't imagine how large this small accident would have been. Great job by ALL the firefighters to get this accident under control so quickly!

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 8:55 am

As of Saturday morning, is the road fully open now?

Posted by Mark, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 10:34 am

This incident took place in the early afternoon, and we are very luck that several fire departments responded to the fire and was able to contain it to just over an acre.

The Midpeninsula FireSafe Council (MPFSC) was formed recently to create awareness of the need to clear brush and weeds in the spring in preparation for the summer season which is the fire season in California and the Bay Area. The FireSafe Council holds outreach meetings with the community to provide them with tips on creating a Defensible Space around the homes. MPFSC has a free chipping program for residents who live west of Foothill Expressway which is also called Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Please visit our website to read more about it,
Web Link

Mark Nadim
Midpeninsula FireSafe Council

Posted by MountainResident, a resident of another community
on Jun 14, 2014 at 11:48 am

Thank you to all the spotters, notifiers, traffic directors & responders (& anyone I left out) for so effectively dealing with this fire. As residents up here we really really appreciate it and all of you! And very glad no one was hurt.

Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 1:34 pm

I'm somewhat skeptical of the 'deer' excuse as Page Mill Rd is the unofficial race course of the want to be race car driver spoiled kids from PA, LAH and other nearby communities. Slow down before you kill someone.

Posted by Nancy, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 14, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Skeptomaniac, I lived 500 feet above Skyline for 22 years so drove all those roads thousands of times. I've seen deer jump down off a hill with no warning onto the hood of a car, I've seen them come out of no where. I consider myself lucky for never having hit one. But I want to add to those reading this, that its not just them darting out. If you see one come across the road as I did frequently at night on the long street of Woodside Road just before it starts to climb up the mountain, slow way down. More often than not there are more than one, but worse, every once in awhile, the change their minds and turn around and go back. You need to treat them as you would driving by kids playing ball in the street.

Posted by Skeptomaniac, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Nancy, but none of that is what happened ... the car ran into the embankment so hard it basically blew up. The first thing you do when you see a deer is hit the brakes ... were there brake marks or sliding skid marks?

You probably never hit a deer because you were aware, looking around and driving at a reasonable speed. I've seen them as well, and I know how they act. If one jumped on a car, you would not need to swerve to avoid it, and it would be dead or wounded. [Portion removed.]

Posted by resident, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 14, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Skeptomaniac, I walked up to one of the firemen after it was put out and they determined that 15 min after the crash with the car in the brush, the center of the exhaust pipe was on contact with the brush under the car and ignited. They said that it got too out of control too fast for the driver to be able to throw dirt on the flames because the radiator fluid had leaked and ignited with the fire under the car, causing the whole car to go up in flames.

Posted by hill dweller, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Yes people drive too fast. Yes wild animals are wild. I think we can all agree on those line items. If the guy wrecked his car it seems likely that the officers on the scene evaluated the condition of the driver. He was very likely speeding (or racing) but to suggest he was high or drunk is a reach and up to the authorities to sort out. Maybe it's best that Skeptomaniac keeps to the 25 mph zones that surround the quiet streets of Crescent Park so you're not troubled by such wild lands that surround you? There's a solution to every condition you know. Let's all stay safe and thank goodness that our fire fighters caught this before it exploded into another Oakland Hills disaster.

Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I'm still skeptical of the driver's excuse.

Basic Speed Law - California Vehicle Code section 22350: No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.

Posted by Brian, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm

[Post removed.]

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