A vegetation fire broke out along the Reservoir Road near the Stanford Dish May 1 at 2:50 p.m., resulting in the closure of nearby roads and subsequent redirection of traffic, according to a tweet issued by the Santa Clara Unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
In an interview with Palo Alto Online, Palo Alto Fire Department Chief Geoffrey Blackshire said there were no injuries reported and no threat to residents, structures or property. In a stroke of luck for emergency personnel, the Dish, which under different circumstances would be a popular spot for locals on an afternoon stroll, was empty following its closure due to COVID-19.
Crews from the Palo Alto Fire Department and CalFire were quick to respond and received support from the Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services in addition to the Stanford Department of Public Safety, according to Palo Alto Emergency Services Coordinator Nathan Rainey. The Palo Alto Fire Department also provided bulldozers, often used in firefighting to dig “catlines” — uprooting vegetation so the fire cannot pass over.
The fire began near the center of the Dish, according to a Stanford DPS alert issued at 3 p.m. First responders arrived on the scene within minutes, Rainey said.
“I don’t know exactly how the fire started, but around the same time there was a power outage in the same area,” Rainey said. “We speculated there could be a tie between the power outage and the fire.”
Firefighters were still on the scene at 4:30 p.m. when Stanford DPS sent out an update deeming the fire a nonthreat to surrounding residential areas, but still asking for the public to avoid the affected area until further notice.
Palo Alto resident Julie Grecius saw the fire from her home near the Dish and was shocked when she saw a large portion of the sky was obscured by smoke.
“We couldn’t see the flames, but the smoke was twice as high as the highest hill of the dish,” Grecius said.
A follow-up from the Stanford DPS announced the fire as extinguished at 6:55 p.m., and that traffic was allowed to return to Junipero Serra Avenue and other major roads around 7 p.m.
“The fire was only a couple of acres and it wasn’t moving very fast, so it was pretty easy to contain,” Rainey said. “(The containment) was a three-part system: an air attack (where) we used helicopters and dropped water from a local pond, hand crews who stomped around the char and debris, and the (fire) engines.”
The Fire Department’s work is not over yet, and Blackshire said they will be monitoring the scene overnight to ensure a full extinguishment was successful. This fire did not pose a significant threat to residents in the area, but there are procedures in place to warn citizens in the event that a wildfire does get out of control.
“If we felt it was important to notify people in Palo Alto about the fire we would do so through Alert Santa Clara County,” Rainey said. “That’s why it’s important for people to subscribe to Alert SCC; if there’s an emergency, people can be notified (of) it.”