The fire erupted in an area bounded bounded by Woodside, Redwood City and Edgewood Park and Nature Preserve on Tuesday, June 21, the blisteringly hot first day of summer. It brought an early start to the Peninsula's fire season, which typically begins in July. It triggered local evacuation orders and left thousands of residents without power, some for days.
The fire reached within roughly 100-200 feet of the nearest houses, burning about 20 acres, according to Redwood City Fire Chief Ray Iverson. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries from the blaze.
"This is the first fire of that type in decades, where it came to a point where it threatened that many structures and caused that much acreage to burn," Iverson said.
Emergency responders from around the Bay Area came out to support the local Cal Fire CZU team, fighting steep terrain, triple-digit temperatures and unpredictable winds. Last Tuesday, some 200 personnel were on the ground, including the Redwood City and Woodside fire departments, strike teams from Cal Fire SCU, LNU and Mendocino, as well as hand crews from Marin County Fire, Monterey Bay and Blue Ridge.
Two inmate crews from the Ben Lomond Conservation Camp were also dispatched to battle the blaze.
PG&E was investigating the cause of the fire. There have been multiple reports from area residents who heard a loud explosion immediately followed by a power outage just prior to the fire starting.
Incident commander and Battalion Chief Bob Simmons said his crews "hit it really hard" during the first day, working right up against the fire, going in with hoses, scratching out a protective barrier around the perimeter and sending aircraft to dump water and fire retardant overhead.
"We got really lucky there (were) no other major fires in Northern California," he said. "We weren't fighting for aircraft with anybody else."
Simmons and his team worked the fire until 10:30 p.m. last Tuesday night, wearing headlamps in the dark. By the following day, just over 60 firefighters were on-scene putting out residual hotspots and fortifying the containment line.
The fire's implications
Fire Marshal Don Bullard of the Woodside Fire Protection District said dense fuel on the south side of the canyon remains, since aircraft dropping water bombarded the southern portion to protect housing. Fuel — dry grasses, brush and trees — on the northern portion burned off.
It wasn't the only fire in Emerald Hills to break out that day. The Colton Fire, on Colton Court, was extinguished within hours and burned a couple of acres.
In a way, fire crews "lucked out" that the smaller Colton Fire broke out around the same time because Cal Fire had already sent two air assignments that could then join forces against the Edgewood Fire, Bullard said.
"Our saving grace was that we had aircraft to put water on the fire," but future grants, possibly through PG&E, will be needed to mitigate the fuel on the south side, he said.
About 18 Woodside fire personnel were onsite to fight the Edgewood Fire.
Bullard said the Edgewood Fire is the most comparable to the Skeggs Fire, which burned about 50 acres at Skyline Road and Skeggs Point, 3 miles west of Woodside, in September 2017. It was also a difficult fire to access — firefighters had to hike in. But that fire didn't burn as quickly and the vegetation was much moister then than it is now, he said.
"(The Skeggs Fire) started in the evening," Bullard said. "We had time to plan for what we were going to do for it the next day. ... (With Edgewood) it was 102 degrees, with 15-17% humidity. Our one saving grace was not having to contend with the wind. Fuel, weather and topography drive fire. ... The only changing factor is the weather and wind is one of the big driving forces."
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