Residents in the hills were ready to evacuate

Sienna Ferrini and Meghan Bratton said they are worried about people who have had to evacuate but don't think their homes are in danger. Post photo by Sara Tabin.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Portola Valley resident Jeanne McGinnis packed her family’s documents and got her cats’ medicine and carriers ready to go when the forecast called for lightning storms in the Palo Alto Hills area. She said it was the first time in nearly two decades in Portola Valley that she has prepared to evacuate.

Rebecca Akers said she has been telling her husband they ought to leave the area because of the increasing fire threat. Post photo by Sara Tabin.

But the lightning never came, though her home and the Mid-Peninsula are surrounded by eight-day-old lightning-caused fires in Wine Country, east of San Jose and in southern San Mateo and northern Santa Clara counties.

That last fire has consumed 78,000 acres and is only 13% contained. It burns just 15 miles from McGinnis’ home.

But the more immediate threat of lightning strikes starting fires fizzled out yesterday.

“I think the direct threat to us is over,” she said.

Those sentiments were echoed by nearly a dozen Portola Valley and Woodside residents who spoke to the Post today. Many said they were scared over the weekend but are feeling calmer now.

“Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief today,” said Woodside resident Jim Milton.
“I think we might be OK but I’m an optimistic person.”

He said he didn’t pack up to evacuate but has many friends that did.
Portola Valley residents Sienna Ferrini and Meghan Bratton, who were getting food at Robert’s Market, said they are more concerned with the smoke in the area than the actual fires.

Ferrini said she is worried about people in other towns that have been evacuated but doesn’t think the fires are coming for Portola Valley.

Helen Wolter said she was “really stressed” yesterday when the Palo Alto Hills area received an order to prepare for possible evacuation.

“They extended the evacuation into Foothills Park and it’s right there,” she said, referring to the park. Wolter said she is less nervous now but is keeping her things packed and ready to go.

Leslie Fiering, an evacuated Pescadero resident, has been keeping her horses in Woodside. She said she was worried she would have to move them again because of the anticipated storms. For now, the horses are safe although Fiering said she is concerned about the air quality affecting them.

Some people said they are worried about the long-term prospects of the region.
Rebecca Akers said she thinks the immediate threat from lightning storms is receding but she is concerned that the fires keep getting worse each year. She said she and her husband are both in their 60s meaning the respiratory consequences of smoky air are getting scarier.

“I said to my husband maybe we ought to move away from here,” she said. “It just feels like because of climate change this will be a yearly phenomenon.”

Akers, a teacher, said she was busy trying to prepare for remote learning amid the COVID pandemic when the fires brought in a new source of stress.

Mike Davenport, an Atherton resident shopping at the Woodside Robert’s Market, said he thinks the trouble started too soon this year.

“There’s so much fire season ahead of us,” he said. “I just find it very concerning that we have these huge fires and about four months to go.”