Palo Alto fire chief warns the fuel is ripe for a wildfire here

Firefighters make a stand in the backyard of a home in front of the advancing CZU Lightning Complex fire in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Cruz County on Friday. AP photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

A dry lightning storm is expected late tonight or early tomorrow (Sunday) morning, similar but smaller than last Sunday’s storm that ignited hundreds of wildfires in Northern California.

Palo Alto Fire Chief Geo Blackshire said the city is fully staffed with firefighters, but it is hard to say whether his department would be able to keep things under control if a fire broke out here. He said it will depend on the size of the fire and the weather.

“They are unpredictable,” he said. He said there are factors that influence fires such as the weather and the time of day that firefighters cannot control.

Palo Alto is prepared with equipment for street and wildfires and has technology to help track and fight fires.

But he said Palo Alto has wildland that hasn’t burned in decades and, in a few places, in hundreds of years, meaning the fuel is ripe.

Blackshire said the department sent firefighters to Fire Station 8 in the foothills, which is only used under special circumstances. City Council made large budget cuts this year because of coronavirus, but Blackshire said no firefighters have been laid off.

Two fire crews have been deployed to fight nearby fires. They will remain out of the city until those fires are under control.

Blackshire said Palo Alto will work with the county and other local cities in the event of local fires, but said Palo Alto can’t count on help from the state.

“State resources are battling a lot of fires,” he said. “We are very limited in what we would be able to request outside of the area.”

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman sent out a memo on Thursday about the unusual circumstances firefighters find themselves in today with the large number of fires around the state.

He said his fire district — which serves Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton, west Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks — has sent firefighters to fight nearby fires, but needs to make sure to keep enough people around in case something happens here.

“We are prepared to send out one more fire engine and use our drone team for situational awareness if needed,” he said, but added that no more can be sent out to fires in the state in order to keep the district’s firehouses full.

He said he hasn’t seen anything like the current crisis in 40 years of service.

The National Weather Service has issued a fire watch for the entire Bay Area and Central Coast, as strong winds, lightning, and thunderstorms forecast Sunday through Tuesday could lead to new fires.

Winds are predicted to reach anywhere between 40 and 65 mph while scattered thunderstorms are predicted for Sunday heading into Monday morning, and then again later Monday and into Tuesday.

During this time, dry lightning could start new fires throughout the regions.

Blackshire has previously said that residents clearing vegetation around their homes can also make it easier for firefighters to protect homes once residents have evacuated.

Managing the foliage near a home includes removing dead and dying plants, using
drought-tolerant and fire-resistant plants and removing dry leaves, twigs and so on from the roof, rain gutters and within 100 feet of your yard.

Residents also ought to remove propane tanks and other flammable items near their homes. They can also look up what should be in a “go-bag” in case they need to make a quick evacuation.

Residents can go to to read up on how they can be prepared.