Saturday, May 23, 2015

Homes Threatened By Tier 3 Vegetation Fire In East San Jose Foothills

Photo By Craig Allyn Rose
On Saturday afternoon, May 23, the firefighters on San Jose Engine 19 spotted a column of smoke in the east foothills. They quickly contacted Dispatch and called for a Tier 1 response, initially putting the location in the area of Penitencia Creek Rd. While units were being dispatched, neighbors called in with an actual address of 11482 Chula Vista Drive. Arriving firefighters discovered a fast-moving blaze in several acres of open land surrounded by homes with no apparent vehicle access. Not a very good situation!
A Tier 2 was quickly called, along with a Medium Cal Fire response, bringing much-needed air support. The lack of access, and the strong threat to many residences, saw the incident upgraded several more times, with the addition of a Tier 3 response and a call for the Santa Clara County Wildland task force.
The base of the hillside where the fire was anchored near Holly Drive was geographically very close to the top of the hill. But, to drive from one to the other involved a 2.5-mile wind through the lower foothills. Staging was put roughly in the middle of that 2.5-mile route.
To complicate matters, during the incident, a resident suffered a medical issue which required an EMS response. An engine from staging, along with a County EMS rig, were dispatched to the scene but had difficulty negotiating their way to the incident as the road was blocked in several places by 5-in. supply lines. Between this EMS issue, and the crews trying to get out in front of the fire itself, there was a large number of emergency vehicles moving in different directions along the edge of the eastern foothills.
Cal Fire aircraft worked the fire making several drops, including a retardant drop from Tanker 85 and several drops from Copter 106.
Another complication to the firefighting effort was the type of landscaping used in the neighborhood. While the hillside between the houses was steep and grassy, several of the homes had tall palm trees. Once the fire spread into the tops of the palm trees, it was a problem getting water into the trees to douse the blaze. The burning tree tops also caused several issues with embers falling from the sky.
The Tier 2 call-out resulted in an automatic request for Fire Associates assistance. FASCV member Bruce Dembecki responded with Fire Support Unit 2 and was met on scene by Mike Garcia, George Hoyt, Dan Wong, and Kenny Needham (guest).
The difficult terrain and large travel distances presented just as much of a problem for Rehab as it had for the fire crews, initially. The IC and FASCV members determined the best approach was to travel to the different outposts of crews and rehab them in place. Water, Gatorade, and Cliff bars were ferried around in Support Unit 2 to the various sides of the blaze and the crews working overhaul.
It was later determined that a residents welding project resulted in the blaze.
  • An NBC Bay Area news story, video, and photos can be read at:  Fire Contained
  • Craig Allyn Rose's photos can be viewed at:  Tier 3 Fire
-- Report submitted by Bruce Dembecki