When rain causes fire
Electrical fires are known for being impervious to water, a truth demonstrated in the rain over nearly two hours early Thursday morning (Nov. 29) at the corner of Princeton Road and Cambridge Avenue in the Allied Arts neighborhood of Menlo Park.
Something, possibly a fallen tree limb, knocked loose a cross-bar on a utility pole on the northeast corner at around 2:15 a.m., followed by a loud pop and the loss of electricity for many homes in the area — including the home of this reporter. A trip outside led to the discovery on the northwest corner of a bright fire lighting up a branch for maybe three feet around it high up in a deciduous tree.
A 911 call by a neighbor brought a fire truck from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District that arrived in about 15 minutes, with two police squad cars arriving shortly thereafter. As a firefighter paced the area, getting different views of the fire, there was another pop. The firefighter jumped as a utility wire suddenly separated in the midst of the fire and fell gently to the ground, lying still in the street after a few sparks.
The rain, heavy at times, kept falling and the fire continued to burn but at a slightly lower intensity. The rain accompanied a steady but scattered shower of sparks and ashes from the burning limb.
Firefighters watched the fire for a few minutes, contacted Pacific Gas & Electric, made a patrol of nearby streets to deploy caution tape across Cambridge and Princeton, and left to attend to other matters, according to an account by Officer Robert Simpson of the Menlo Park Police Department, one of the two officers on duty at the scene.
The electricity feeding the burning branch had created a well-behaved fire that looked like it would continue to behave, even to an uninformed observer.
Workers from PG&E arrived around 4 a.m., first two men in a pickup truck to assess the situation and then a crew in working trucks whose first order of business was to shut down the electricity at the scene, according to an account by one of their colleagues. With the loss of the electricity to power it (at around 4:30 a.m.), the fire immediately went out.
This reporter, and most probably all the residents of nearby homes, received an automated phone call from PG&E between 5 and 6 a.m. with an estimate of when power would be restored.
At 9 a.m., power was back on, a Comcast truck had arrived, and the PG&E trucks were gone as was a large limb from the tree.