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Grass fire narrowly misses East Palo Alto homes

Two-alarm blaze brings out 30 firefighters from four agencies

A 10-acre grass fire in the baylands missed igniting homes in an East Palo Alto by a matter of feet on Tuesday evening, July 17.

The two-alarm blaze burned two-foot-high oat grass and spread southeast over the top of a series of berms. Menlo Park firefighters said luck was on their side. The fire could have been much worse if it was hotter and drier.

Blazes that spread into the wetlands can be very difficult to fight, they said. The area is also adjacent to electrical power lines, which are a big concern for fire crews. Winds initially blew flames away from homes on Illinois Street and light-industrial businesses on Demeter Street, they said. The land borders vacant property at the end of Demeter off Bay Road.

The fire was reported at about 6:20 p.m. In all 30 firefighters surrounded the blaze, including from the Woodside and Redwood City fire departments and CalFire, said Frank Fraone, Menlo Park division chief. Some homeless encampments are still in the area, but no one was evacuated or injured, he said.

Neighbors whose homes bordered the property said they were alerted by fire and smoke. A woman peered over the wooden fence that separated her home from the field and thanked the firefighters. She immediately turned on a sprinkler, which shot a fine spray of water along the edge of the field. The dampened ground had been charred black within a foot of her property line.

Small plumes of smoke curled out of the blackened grass in other spots 20 feet away.

Fraone said the department had not yet determined the cause of the blaze. But some residents said they saw a group of children walk out of the area just before the fire began.

Moses Maka, 15, said he worried the fire would reach some homes.

"I was really scared for these houses and it would have caused hecka problems for East Palo Alto," he said.

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