Firefighters on the ground declared a small brush fire in a remote part of Huddart Park in Woodside under control on Friday afternoon (May 10) after some two hours of trying to find it and reach it using hiking trails and fire roads.
The fire, first reported shortly after 2 p.m., had been slowly burning in an area about 50 feet square, Woodside Fire Protection District Fire Chief Dan Ghiorso said.
A downed power line is the suspected cause, but the investigation is ongoing, Chief Ghiorso said. A row of tall electrical towers crosses Interstate 280 and heads toward Skyline Boulevard through the park along the Richards Road Trail and the Crystal Springs Trail. Firefighters drove these trails in their trucks, according to radio dispatches.
In an interview at about halfway through the effort to reach the fire on the ground, Chief Dan Ghiorso described the fire as "not going anywhere real fast." And a dispatcher around that time described it as "not doing much" and "just smoking."
A crucial element in the successful effort were nine air drops of fire retardant and water, four from fixed-wing aircraft and five from helicopters, the chief said. The tree canopy did hinder the effort somewhat because the fire was in the underbrush where the airdrops could not easily reach.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Calfire) operated the aircraft. Since wildfire season has officially begun, crews at Calfire stations near Highway 17 and in Morgan Hill automatically respond with "everything they have," including aircraft, bulldozers and ground crews, Chief Ghiorso said.
"That's really what knocked it down," the chief said. "A lot of kudos to Calfire."
The San Mateo County Fire Department also responds automatically in wildfire season, the chief said. Also fighting this fire, which never got beyond one alarm, were firefighters from Redwood City and the Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Department, reportedly the first firefighters on the scene.
Almost from the beginning, there were six engine companies engaged, with four firefighters per company. Some of the firefighters were ferried in by helicopter, Chief Ghiorso said.
Firefighters relied on the aircraft to direct them, according to radio dispatches. At one point, firefighters reported being three-quarters of a mile to a mile away from where they thought the fire was. At another, they reported being blocked by a downed power line. "Our biggest challenge was access to the fire," the chief said.
Workers from Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. eventually arrived and shut down the power, firefighters said.
Low wind and moderate temperatures helped, Chief Ghiorso said. "I hope this is a wake up call for people. It's not a matter of when, but if. We throw everything we can at (incidents like) this," he added.
Fire Marshal Denise Enea of the Woodside district added in an email that she and Chief Ghiorso "have been actively communicating to the towns and the residents that we fear a very aggressive fire season this year. With one of the driest springs on record and having already experienced high temperatures and winds, we are already seeing an uptake in fires.
"The County Parks, our Towns and most importantly our residents will have to be very proactive in their fire safety measures this year," Ms. Enea continued. "The Fire District will be extra diligent in fire code inspections for compliance regarding defensible space around homes."