Fire blazes through San Martin

Crews were able to save this house on Lena Avenue in San Martin from the fire raging right behind it. Photo by Nathan Mixter.
Mike Sibley, right, leads a goat to safety during the fire in San Martin. Photo by Nathan Mixter.
Neighbors extinguished hot spots with buckets. Photo by Nathan Mixter.
A firefighter looks on as crews battle the flames. Photo by Nathan Mixter.

A fire that ripped through southeast San Martin burned 20 acres of vegetation and multiple homes, displacing 21 residents of the rural unincorporated community.

The blaze started about 4:15pm July 25 as a vegetation fire in the area of the 12100 block of Church Avenue. The fire spread and destroyed a mobile home and three outbuildings, and damaged two houses, according to CalFire Fire Prevention Specialist Pam Temmermand.

One of the destroyed buildings was “an extremely large barn,” Temmermand said. It appeared at least one greenhouse was overrun by the flames.

Sixteen vehicles were also destroyed before crews were able to contain most of the fire. Southbound lanes on U.S. 101 were closed due to the thick smoke drifting across the freeway.

The blaze was about 85 percent contained as of the morning of July 26, Temmermand said.

Temmermand added that a total of 21 residents of the destroyed and damaged homes are temporarily displaced. Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Services is working with American Red Cross and the county’s Social Services Administration to assist the displaced residents.

Units from CalFire, Gilroy Fire Department and San Jose Fire Department responded to the fire.

As CalFire tankers dropped water from a reservoir to the east, firefighters desperately tried to save a two-story house on Lena Avenue where huge flames lapped at the back door step. An elderly woman in the house made it to safety. Other residents of the house had left earlier in the day for vacation.

Although Temmermand said no livestock or other animals were reportedly caught in the fire, at least one resident said some chickens perished. About 30 horses were saved from the fire, firefighters on the scene said.

Mike Sibley, 71, who rents a trailer on the Lena Avenue property, said he received a call from the owner of the house warning him of the fire. Sibley rushed back from a bar in Morgan Hill, where he had been hanging out with friends. He said he at times drove on the wrong side of the road to get to the fire several miles south.

Sibley said he arrived in time to rush into the mobile home he has been renting for about eight years and save his 20-year-old dog, Oddie, and some valuables.

He left his vehicle in front and headed to the scene of chaos.

“There was three or four cars on fire and I probably would have lost mine if I went back there,” Sibley said.

He also managed to lead out a kid goat.

“There were about 30 goats in there and that was the only one who wanted to follow me out,” he said. “The firefighters out here are doing an amazing job.”

Sibley did however lose several personal items when another of the buildings on the property burned.

About 7pm, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies cleared onlooking pedestrians away from in front of the house on Lena Avenue and moved them back to Manna Way after an electric pole caught on fire and threatened their safety.

A gray pit bull was picked up by animal control in the area, firefighters said.

No injuries among people were reported, according to Temmermand.

Plumes of black smoke were blown south by 10-miles-per-hour wind gusts toward Gilroy and Christmas Hill Park six miles away, where the Garlic Festival will be held this weekend. The wildfire never posed a danger for north Gilroy neighborhoods, or the park.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

 

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