Weekend Fires Ignite

Weekend Fires Ignite

13 June 2007

published by www.gilroydispatch.com

Gilroy, USA — Two raging grassfires scorched South CountySunday, the day before the California Department of Forestry snuffed openburning in Santa Clara County by suspending burn permits.

Firefighters spent eight hours quelling a six-acre blaze west of WatsonvilleRoad between Day and Burchell roads Sunday, starting at 9am and sweating it outuntil 5pm. A downed power line sparked the fire, and prevented ground crews fromattacking the flames until PG&E de-energized the wire. Helicopters totingwater contained the fire before the line was cut, allowing firefighters to pushonto the steep hillside and douse the flames.

“Our concern was to keep it on that hillside and hold it there,”said Derek Witmer, South Santa Clara County Fire District Battalion Chief.”Access was really difficult – it’s really steep terrain.”

Though there are some homes across the hills, no structures were immediatelythreatened, said Witmer, nor did the flames harm the adjacent Dorcich Vineyards.Joining the attack were two Gilroy fire engines, two air tankers, twohelicopters, two chief officers, four fire crews and seven engines from theCalFire, and two engines and a chief officer (Witmer) from SCCFD. Fireinvestigators have yet to determine what caused the power line to fall.

Only 20 minutes after the Watsonville Road fire was extinguished, a secondfire ignited behind Chan Share Nursery at 14285 Murphy Avenue in San Martin. Thetwo-acre grass fire was started by a battery charger left in the grass, saidWitmer. The charger either shorted out or overcharged, sparking a fire thatthreatened 60,000 feet of greenhouses. One travel trailer was lost to the fire.

It took nearly two hours to extinguish the second blaze, said Witmer. ThreeSCCFD engines, five CalFire engines, and crews from Gilroy and the county helped;a CalFire bulldozer cut a fire line into the grass, stopping the flames’ spread.

After an especially dry spring, Witmer said firefighters are expectingsimilar weekends to come: The timber is as dry now as it would normally be inAugust, he explained.

Monday, CDF officials in several counties suspended burn permits, citing”the acute dryness of vegetation.” Santa Clara, Colusa, Lake, Napa,Solano, Sonoma, Yolo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties are covered by the bans,as well as the Stanislaus and San Joaquin areas west of Interstate 5. The bansprohibit open burning unless CDF officials inspect the burn site and issue aspecial permit. Campfires are still allowed in designated campgrounds.

Weed-eating and mowing has already sparked several fires in South County,added Witmer.

“A lot of fires in South County are started by good intentions,” heexplained. “Folks are out there mowing in the heat of the day. They hit arock. Sparks fly, and they’ve got a grassfire. If you’re going to mow orweed-eat, do it early in the morning, or late in the evening when it’scooler.”

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