A BARRAGE OF FIREFIGHTER PERSONNEL AND APPARATUS WAS AT FORCE TODAY PUTTING OUT A 5-ALARM FIRE AT HAMPSHIRE PLACE, NEAR BRANHAM LANE; THAT’S AS ONE HOUSE WAS ENGULFED IN FLAMES, THEN CARRIED TO ANOTHER, PLUS THREATENED NEARBY GIANT OAKS AND OTHER VEGETATION.
The fire was reported at 11:22am; but, many of the firefighters were still at the site, gathering-up houses and other equipment as of 4:15pm. Residents and neighbors were walking about the block in dismay. Many of them arrived from work to check-up on their home. Two families were put-out from their homes. One home is totally wasted. The other, badly damaged… and, a neighbor said, they just recently moved-in.
Added to the experience, surrounding the area were reporters from nearly every local television news station, many of them waiting to broadcast the event for the 5:00pm news. A two-minute report on KGO-ABC; a nearly four-minute aerial helicopter shot from KNTV-NBC Bay Area news; similar from KPIX-CBS and KTVU-2. The “inferno” would also be broadcast in Spanish, via Telemundo. From the television, most of the stories delivered with a tone, as if to say “here’s another fire” in San Jose. Indeed, another fire; but, all of this was happening on a back residential street of San Jose. It was anything but “normal,” although its often being represented as the “new normal.”
With the severity of the drought — aside from the fire department’s under-staffing — the San Jose firefighters have certainly been busy across the city. This 5-alarm fire at Hampshire place is the latest example of how a residential fire can become a major event, as well as consume a good share of the city’s firefighting resources. Not only that, but how residential fires are relating to vegetation fires.
So far, the press has estimated that 80 to 90 personnel (if not just under 100) were at this fire today. Between sources, the number is not agreed.
At that, not many in the press questioned the number and variety of apparatus which had descended on this city block at Hampshire Place.
Streets were closed off and fire hoses lead their way through the entire terrain, beyond eyesight. As cars buzzed across Branham Lane and turned onto Almaden Expressway, nobody would have known that a major 5-alarm fire was going down on the back street, just a block away. Except that it would be broadcasted for a few minutes on TV. It was also published with a brief article at the Mercury News.
Today’s 5-alarm fire site is just down the street from Branham Lane. It’s also just about a block or two away from the dry ravine of the Guadalupe River and Almaden Expressway. It was a hotbed of activity for the fire department, even though it’s a residential backstreet.
Thousand Oaks Park is also just a block away, where fire hoses were stretched out along its entire length, across the great lawn and out towards another street to connect to a hydrant.
As those hoses reached across a residential block, a city park and then out towards another street, that wasn’t the small of it. Walking towards the house, more hoses continued from the opposite direction, coming from Branham Lane. Altogether, it must have been just a few miles of fire hose, connecting the water supply from the hydrants to the truck, and then pumping thousands of gallons of water per minute onto the blazing site.
What came was water and more water. Thousand of gallons — per minute — were continuously gushing out. Multiply this by several hours, from several hydrants, to several trucks. This was happening during severe drought.
The hoses led the way to the fire; but, arriving at the scene, it was an even more compelling sight. From both the backside of the house — to the front — there were fire trucks and other emergency vehicles scattered through the landscape. Residents wondered what percentage of the city’s force was present. That was a good question. Nevertheless, exactly what number or percentage was tied-up, is not yet verified.
San Jose’s Captain Cleo Doss is quoted as saying that “A fire of this size does thin resources.” That only brings to mind San Jose firefighters’ issues, countered with the Mayor and City Council. As scores of firefighting personnel descended on this 5-alarm fire, what happens in regards to the rest of the city? Luckily, another major event didn’t occur, although staff was rather thin. Chief Doss did continued to say, “but with help from other agencies, all other parts of San Jose were safe while the incident was dealt with.”
It has not been asked how often San Jose Fire Department returns that favor. Nor is it asked how those “other agencies” regard the situation in San Jose.
Just in the last months and weeks, there’s been major structural and vegetation fires that have required multi-station assistance; whereas, keeping-up with the emergency radio dispatch (i.e., PulsePoint app) is never-ending. As of the last months and weeks, there’s been major fire events happening back to back, which is aside from the other usual: medical emergencies (EMS), investigations, public service, water flow alarms, hazardous material incidents, wires down, traffic collisions, etc.
As this has been occurring, many areas of the city have been impacted by lower response times; that is, relying on stations from outlying neighborhoods or even from the county and nearby cities.
That’s where there’s a heated point of contention, in addition to the fire itself. Last year’s political debates focussed on staffing, resources and response times; but, that was before this summer’s severe drought showed its force. That was before this year’s fire season began. Now, the fires are challenging the city itself.
Meanwhile, as of July, the Mayor and San Jose City Council are on a break from session.
San Jose Fire Department is busier than ever. They don’t take breaks like the rest of us… its like warfare. They just keep fighting. Indeed, one firefighter said that a break may not be available. Work continues, fire after fire, emergency after emergency, hour after hour, often times non-stop.
Ambulances, medical devices, food and beverages, etc. are all kept available and ready, in case a firefighter so requires their need. Accommodations were there for personnel, as much as to comfort residents. A volunteer fire “rehab” truck had also arrived, too.
Overall, firefighters and their support took-over a good portion of the park and surrounding blocks; but, this fire should be more than just regarded as the that which leapt-over a neighbor’s back fence. Fire trucks came from the opposite side of the block, firefighters cut through that fence, dragged hoses across the yards and fought the fire from both ends. When they came in, there was no more “my yard” or “your yard,” aside from private or public space…. this was war ground.
The original house from where the fire started had traditional wood shingles, which baked in the sun and became extremely flammable, as that became like charcoal in the high heat and excessively dry climate, once the fire kindled and took flame. From there, the fire quickly spread to the house next-door; but, also to the giant trees adjacent to the house.
With that setting, fire trucks approached the two-story house, pouring gallons of water from ladder-trucks. Those ladders and crews surrounded the house, preventing the flames from consuming more homes and more vegetation.
What seemed to be the greater worry was a possible drifting and spark that would create an enormous fire throughout the park and neighborhood area. Luckily, that didn’t happen, although the area was clearly occupied.
The trees in the park and surrounding neighborhood are quite mature and tall, but could more than likely have become torches, if ignited and given the chance to spread. Walking through the park area, its hard not to notice nearby dry grass and tons of dry and fallen leaves. It makes for natural ground cover under the arbors, but there’s also plenty here to keep a fire going.
This fire was more than just another reminder of the summer heat waves and drought, as it showed its impact on area vegetation, plus nearby structures. Alert notifications simply say “structure” or “vegetation” fire and so forth. Forget that. It’s all a combined realization, not separate.
This 5-alarm at Hampshire Place was over-the-top from a couple of other fires in the vicinity, happening just very recently. These others, were simply not as high-profile.
Recently, de·Anza Post reported on a fire in Almaden, which also had a dry creek area along Coleman Road, aside from nearby townhouses, adjacent to Guadalupe Oak Grove Park.
Then, too, last night, a fire just off of Lincoln Avenue at Laura Ville Lane. A beautiful big home, situated under large trees, back along an alley in a charming cup-de-sac was under fire. It was an unsettling experience for neighbors, when screaming and flashing fire trucks, plus their brigades, took over the otherwise quiet niche.
Before that, as of 18 July 2014, the SJFD put out a vegetation fire nearby a residential structure in Willow Glen. The location of this fire was adjacent to a home that is along side Los Gatos Creek and between Interstate-280 and the Gregory Street bicycle/pedestrian bridge.
Along the bone-dry Los Gatos Creek were many of such residential structures, all of them backed up against many trees and other vegetation. This was all fuel for fire. But, nobody really reported it, even though it’s also proximate to the old Willow Glen Trestle.
That vegetation fire started along the east bank of the creek; whereas, firefighters had to go down in the creek bed. They shot water from fire hoses to the east bank of Los Gatos Creek.
This cause of the fire appeared to be from homeless encampments within the creek area, as well as within proximity of the home.
The Gregory Street fire required 3 fire engines; 1 water tanker truck; 2 fire battalion chiefs; plus, 2 police cars. Altogether, there were 16 firefighters and 2 police officers.
Fire stations reporting were: Station 6 from Cherry Avenue (Willow Glen), as first responders; then, followed by Station 3 and 13 as support.
The Gregory Street/ Los Gatos Creek fire was about a half mile from Fire Station 30; but, they did not respond. Station 30 only had a hook-and-ladder truck that does not carry water. Compensating for Station 30 were stations 6, 3 and 13.
Here, there, everywhere in the city: fire and drought are not discriminating. Its threatening older buildings for preservation, as well as those new developments. It’s consuming vegetation in the environment, as there’s also no moisture or water to nurture that habitat. Its become detrimental to both human life and the animal wildlife. It’s threatening homes and businesses. Its in the homeless encampments, but forcing people from the comfort of their homes.
These are hot times, summer in the city… and its not over yet.