DRY VEGETATION ALONG ALMADEN’S GUADALUPE CREEEK AND SURROUNDING PERCOLATION PONDS CAUSED SAN JOSE’S FIRE STATION #13 TO RESPOND TO A FIRE THIS LAST FRIDAY 25 JULY 2014, WHILE SIGNS OF SEVERE DROUGHT WERE PRESENT THROUGHOUT THIS VITAL WATERSHED AND PARK AREA.
De·Anza Post reported on the fire that day, which was recorded at 1:55pm by Pulse Point Foundation, an online alert system with notifications.
The fire of concern was along Coleman Road in Almaden, a thoroughfare that runs to the side of the Guadalupe Creek and Los Capitancillos percolation ponds, as well as (for a portion) the Villas of Almaden townhouse community. This portion of Coleman Road stretches along the creek, between Meridian Avenue and Almaden Expressway.
At one corner of the intersection is the Almaden Lake; which has a significant social legacy, as much as ecological significance; plus, it’s used by CalFire for large-scale vegetation fires. Just last year, this lake became subject of a mandate by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. As part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, that board oversees the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); whereby it is currently requiring that the Santa Clara Valley Water District control the production and release of methyl-mercury from Almaden Lake.
At the opposite corner of this intersection is an entrance to the Los Capitancillos percolation ponds and a public tail; but, as of late, the water has all disappeared and it looks starkly different. The vegetation, from here and out to Meridian Avenue and beyond, is all dried out.
Just a block south of the fire, from Recife Way and Coleman Road, is an entrance to Guadalupe Oak Grove Park, all of which is bordered by the Villas of Almaden town homes. This entire grove includes “century” oak trees, or San Jose “Heritage Trees” that are said to be hundreds of years old; as well as that the master plan for this park once revealed that this location is believed to be a former Ohlone Indian people’s habitat. Presently, it is all surrounded by dense, yellowed grass that goes up the hillside and meets nearby residences. This park is open for activity during the day, and closed at nightfall. But, the conditions appear ominous, as if it could be prone to rapidly spreading fire.
Just opposite of Coleman Road and the creek is the site of the old Almaden Winery, now a park within yet another residential community, although this is mostly residential now.
Station 13 came to this fire site from Pearl Avenue. This station includes a ladder truck, engine, water tender and battalion SUV, all of which were at were at the site. A few other apparatus appeared to have been called from other stations, but were not seen by de·Anza Post at the later duration of the fire.
Although station 22 is also nearby at Bose Lane and Camden Avenue, Station 13 seems to be the appropriate station. Station 13 is 7 to 8 minutes away from the site of the fire, a distance of 2.7 miles of travel. Comparatively, Station 22 at Bose Lane has an engine, a Hi-Tech Pumper with a 1500 gallon per minute pump. Still, Station 13 appears to be better equipped than Station 22, although it is just 5 minutes away with a distance of 2.5 miles.
SJFD Station 22 of Almaden turns out onto Camden Avenue from Bose Lane. This fire station is across the street from the Almaden Community Center.
Both of these stations are joined by a few others, all of which are serving an area that currently has vast expanses of dry vegetation, some of which is along creeks and rivers, but others within parks and along hillsides.
For example, also nearby is Station 17, which supposedly includes a reserve “brush patrol,” in addition to an engine with a Hi-Tech Pumper. That station is 5 minutes away at Coniston Drive, by Blossom Hill Road and Pioneer High School. De·Anza Post is not sure if the reserve brush patrols elsewhere and at Station 17 are active; but, on high risk days they are suppose to be staffed.
The City of San Jose claims that “the replacement of fire engines, aerial ladder trucks, brush patrols, water tenders, and other emergency response apparatus is planned in accordance with the Fire Apparatus Replacement Policy,” as stated in its 2013-2017 Capital Improvement Program/ 2012-2013 Capital Budget.
In that budget, planned depreciation and replacement is considered thus:
Annual funding is allocated for scheduled fire apparatus replacement based on the following replacement intervals: overhead vehicles (formerly battalion chief vehicles), 10 years; brush patrols, 12 years; engines, light units, rescue units, USARs, and other special equipment, 20 years; and trucks 25 years.
Both the funding source and expenditure schedule for a 5 year period, from 2012 to 2017, amounts to $27,925 for equipment.
Other area stations include 12 at Calero & Cahalan; 28 at McKean Road; and 9 at Ross Avenue.
CalFire’s Station 22 is just down the street from San Jose’s Station 28 on McKean Road.
Last year, Almaden residents were concerned about nearby Almaden Lake, which is sometimes used as a CalFire source, drawing water to put out fires by aerial dumps.
It was last 14 June 2013, that a local group known as Save Almaden Lake posted a video showing CalFire and using the water resources of that lake to extinguish nearby vegetation fires in the hill areas of Almaden. Residents here have been concerned about the ecological health of the lake, as well as its role within public recreation, the valley watershed and even fire and safety programs. The video on Facebook shows helicopters dredging water from the lake to dump on a fire nearby
CalFire’s regional headquarters for the Santa Clara valley are at Monterey Street in Morgan Hill; but, its Alma aerial attack/Helitack base is located in Los Gatos, along the Santa Cruz Highway and the back-end of Lexington Reservoir.
Indeed, going south of the site of the fire at Coleman road, the creek runs out towards the borders of Almaden Quicksilver Park and the Sierra Azul Open Space Pereserve. A trail connects to Hicks Road and the Lexington Reservoir towards Los Gatos.
At the opposite point of this stretch of Coleman Road is entry to the Los Capitancillos percolation ponds that are behind the creek and road; as this is cater-corner to Almaden Lake Park at Almaden Expressway. A public trail is available along this route, going out towards Los Gatos. Current sight of it, however, is quite the contrary to how it appeared back in 2011, before the drought set-in with severe impact.
Before and after photographs show how much the percolation ponds along Coleman Road and Guadalupe Creek have dried-up over the last two years; whereas, they are presently completely evaporated. A visit shows a bone-dry creek bed, as well as exposure of the percolation pond’s bed with its rich black soil, now baking in the sun. None of this area where the fire was located appears to have water, as it’s been completely taken over by thirsty wildlife and vegetation.
This is a stark contrast to Almaden Lake Park, which presents itself, alongside the Santa Clara Valley Water District headquarters, much looking like an illusory oasis of sorts. Around the lake remain frolicking children and a flock of Canadian geese that seems more than comfortable to stay put at the source… after all, water in this area is becoming a scarce resource for many of the wildlife, including quail, deer, bobcats, squirrels, rabbits and many others. Nearby, there does not seem to be anything for wildlife to draw a drink. Fish and other stream life seem to be completely out of luck in most cases. It’s would also seem to be questionable what kinds of wildlife would come into a public park area, where its typically preoccupied by valley residents. At that, Almaden Lake is scheduled for clean-up and reclamation work in the near future, so it’s also a wonder what will happen then.
The water district also has additional percolation ponds up the expressway towards Blossom Hill Road and Highway 85, but they too are dried-out. Driving towards the highway, it brings back memory of when the fire department assisted a woman who once plunged her car from the highway on-ramp and into the pond at the corner of Hwy-85 and Blossom Hill Road. That was back in early January 2013; whereas, that pond is currently also dried out as of July 2014.
Just up from there, is also the Summer Winds nursery, which caught on fire during August 2013, creating a three-alarm fire and creating a threat to area ground water, if the fertilizers there had not been contained.
Those memories of last year were not all that good, but the potential for this year seems worse, as it’s not over yet.
Just hours ago, CalFire responded to a fire at Almaden Quicksilver Park, making for a buzz amongst concerned groups like Friends of San Jose Firefighters, who have posted pictures by local photographer, Craig Allyn Rose, who typically follows the SJFD. Rose captured shots of the fire from the late morning of Sunday 27 July 2014. Today’s Almaden Quicksilver Park fire consumed 15-acres of vegetation. That is not as big as the Curie fire, which consumed 125 acres from the afternoon of 30 June to early morning of 1 July 2014. Curie Drive is north of Almaden Quicksilver Park and closer to Santa Teresa County Park. (Rose captured the Curie Drive fire, too. )
About two weeks ago, de·Anza post reported on the Los Gatos Creek, saying that the county county had made an estimate based on current developments; whereas, it was estimated that the area will hit what’s called a “minimum pool” by October of this year. The Water District estimated that Lexington Reservoir will reach a shallow depth, whereby the water level is lower than the release outlet, thereby bringing the surrounding area to a dry spell, until rainfall.
Regardless of official status of the Lexington Reservoir, it’s apparent that this “dry spell” has already arrived at many of the creeks and rivers in the valley. The weekend from 25 to 27 July 2014 has seen bone-dry creeks, rivers and percolation ponds… aside from very dry vegetation and fire.