A fast-moving fire helped by remote topography, low humidity and hot weather, scorched 1,500 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains along the Santa Cruz-Santa Clara County border 11 miles west of Morgan Hill. It has burned one house and threatens 300 others.
The Loma Fire broke out 3 p.m. Monday and was spotted by a Cal Fire helicopter crew en route to another fire. Some 500 firefighters were mobilized by Tuesday morning, including a strike force from Gilroy, which spent the night pumping water on threatened homes a mile from the blaze.
Its plume on Monday looked like an atomic bomb blast and could be seen all over the South Bay. Ash poured on Gilroy on Tuesday, where hundreds of firefighters set up camp at Christmas Hill Park and trekked in four-wheel drives up steep mountain roads to battle the blaze.
Planes and helicopters were their biggest assets, firefighters said.
By noon Tuesday, firefighters said the blaze was 5 percent contained, but “a soft 5 percent” said Brian Olliver, a Cal Fire spokesman from the East Bay, meaning it was hard to pin down. Roads around the Summit were closed and people were offered refuge at Soquel High School, the Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos and the Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church. Animals were taken to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.
Roads were closed along Summit Road from Soquel San Jose Road to Ormsby Fire Station, including Uvas Canyon County Park, Loma Chiquita, Casa Loma, Loma Prieta Way, Highland Road and Mount Bache Road. Portions of Croy Road were also under an evacuation warning.
The historic Sveadal Swedish campgrounds and retreat was evacuated and a weekend wedding there was threatened. The Swedish American Patriotic League has owned the property since 1926.
The blaze, moving in a southeasterly direction, is in a remote area and is difficult to get into, with fire crews relying on a network of private and dirt roads to the get to the fire in rough and steep terrain, said Jonathan Cox, Battalion Chief and Loma Fire Incident Information Officer.
Portions of the fire have moved into Santa Cruz County, he said.
“Accessibility is the hardest thing,” said Cox. “It can get hard to get in there.”
The fire is burning through wildland fuel—manzanita, scrub oak, weeds and grasses made dry after five years of drought. Spectacular video footage of a palatial mountain top home surrounded by flames appeared throughout social media Monday evening, stunning area residents as they arrived home to find out that the state’s destructive fire season had arrived in South County.
At the start of the blaze, appeals went out on Facebook for trailers to help bring horses and other animals down from the mountain.
By nightfall, the flames appeared stark against the clear sky, visible from San Jose to Monterey. No cause has been announced, although firefighters responded to a house fire on Loma Prieta before the big blaze began.
The Loma Fire comes 14 years after the Croy Fire, which started nearby, burning 3,000 acres and destroying 31 homes in 2002.
A Gilroy fire crew spent Monday night in the hills. Fire Captain Randy Wong of Gilroy was dispatched to the blaze at 10 p.m. with a strike team of five engines from Gilroy and San Jose, returning to Christmas Hill Park before noon Tuesday.
“I’m hoping for containment in a few days,” he said, optimistically. “The biggest challenges are record heat and humidity and difficult access for larger engines.”
He and his crew and many others at the park had been in Big Sur fighting the Soberanes blaze. Christmas Hill is a base camp because it has been used before and is recommended by the state for setting up firefighter aid. There were tables filled with firefighters and the CDC inmate strike team.
Gilroyans were raising food and cleaning materials for the firefighters at First Street Coffee. Items requested are: protein/granola bars, fresh fruit especially bananas, bottled water, Gatorade and coffee packets.
Oliver said firefighters were grateful, but already well cared for. He suggested people start raising donations for people who may lose their homes in the blaze.
You can see live streaming of the fire here: http://www.morganhillwebcam.com/