Firefighters exit park base camp

California Department of Forestry trucks are parked at Christmas

GILROY
– The 550 California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
firefighters who have been camping at Christmas Hill Park since
Tuesday morning will be out of the park by noon today and park
operations will go on as normal this weekend, according to city
officials.
GILROY – The 550 California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters who have been camping at Christmas Hill Park since Tuesday morning will be out of the park by noon today and park operations will go on as normal this weekend, according to city officials.

City softball leagues and youth day camps that normally use the park were forced to other locations the past three days due to the CDF using Christmas Hill as a base to fight the 200-acre wildfire in Henry W. Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill.

Firefighters began leaving the park Thursday when the lightning-sparked blaze was officially contained. CDF equipment and personnel will exit the park this morning before the fire is expected to be fully-controlled by this evening, and all, said Joe Kline, City of Gilroy spokesperson.

“The park will be back to normal this weekend,” Kline said. “Whatever events were scheduled before will go on as planned.”

One of those events will be the final concert this Sunday in the Concert in the Park series at Christmas Hill’s amphitheater, Kline said. All youth and adult sports activities will also go on as scheduled.

Kline said Christmas Hill Park is on the CDF’s list of base camps throughout the state due to its spacious grounds and Garlic Festival infrastructure suited to hold large numbers of people. The park was chosen as the base for the Coe Fire because of its proximity to the state park, he said.

“Christmas Hill hadn’t been used by the CDF for a long time until the Croy Fire (Sept. 2002),” Kline said. “When this fire began, they remembered how well the park worked for a base camp and decided to come back.”

As with the Croy Fire, the state will be billed by the city for use of the park and any damages caused by the camp. Kline said a team of city officials will inspect the park after the CDF leaves today and bill the state accordingly.

“The good news is that we hadn’t yet began the restoration process (for the park’s grounds) following the Garlic Festival,” Kline said. “If we had, that might have been a concern to have 550 firefighters camping on the newly seeded grass.”

City softball games were moved to the Gavilan Sports Complex and the city’s youth day camps were moved to Las Animas Park in order to make way for the CDF’s camp.

High humidity and low winds allowed the CDF to control the fire at Coe Park within three days. The area burning is so remote firefighters were being dropped into the forest by helicopters due to lack of roads.

All eight helicopters and three air tankers used by the CDF to fight the flames are using the South County Airport in San Martin as a base.

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