‘Annie’ fire on rampage

Bruce Carey points out to friends Tony Cooper and Jim Jorgensen

– With at least seven fires causing problems in the Santa Clara
Valley, the California Department of Forestry is hoping that by
breaking its group into four parts it will more effectively put out
the flames.
GILROY – With at least seven fires causing problems in the Santa Clara Valley, the California Department of Forestry is hoping that by breaking its group into four parts it will more effectively put out the flames.

“Right now, we’re at 5,800 acres (total),” said Chris Morgan, fire prevention specialist for CDF. “We have 1,664 firefighters out there right now.”

At least 25 more fires have sprouted up in the Diablo Range. As of Wednesday evening, firefighters had 25 percent containment on the blazes, but with the Jump Fire, located southeast of Lick Observatory, crossing over fire lines and threatening the San Antonio Valley area, firefighters can only be optimistic about that percentage going up this morning.

“We are making headway,” Morgan said.

To attack all of the blazes, firefighters in the Valley are now separated into four different branches directed by a single management team, whose team members were brought in from several training facilities throughout California.

“We had to make it a complex and break it up in branches one through four,” Morgan said. “It’s much more effective that way.”

While the main camp has been set up in Dublin, about 800 firefighters have begun to set up base camp at Christmas Hill Park, which originally was being kept out of the plan by city officials.

CDF has set Monday as its goal for complete containment of the fires – which started as a result of Monday night’s electrical storm that shot numerous lightning bolts into trees, bushes and other dry shrubs throughout the region – but that’s with the hope of good weather.

“If it’s dry and windy, that’ll change,” Morgan said. “It’s so smoky in there that it’s not easy to see what’s happening in there. It’s quite a deal.”

Morgan said that attacking the Annie Fire, the closest fire to Gilroy which has burned 1,500 to 2,000 acres of land off of Highway 152 near Henry Coe Park, has been a major challenge for firefighters.

“It’s remote, the access is horrible, extreme,” he said. “The firefighters have had to walk quite a distance just to get to the fire. Our needs are crew and aircraft. It’s all cutting and scraping the ground.”

Jeff Harter, CDF division group supervisor, said when they got to the fire at 11 a.m. Wednesday, it was at 500 acres. By 4 p.m., they had estimated that it had quadrupled in size. His division alone had five engines, two water tenders and were working 24-hour shifts.

“It’s making pretty aggressive progress,” he said.

Bruce Carey, of the Husong Deer Club located near the fire, was watching the fire from down the canyon.

“The heat was so intense that it felt like it was going to burn my face,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how fast it turned and ran up the canyon.”

To the deer club’s knowledge, the area of Upper Quinto Canyon Creek, just east of the Santa Clara County line hadn’t burned in at least several decades.

Officials at Henry Coe Park, which is threatened by three blazes between three and 10 miles away, are not evacuating campers and backpackers.

“So far this has not disrupted normal operations of the park,” Ranger Barry Breckling said.

On Tuesday, a lightning-ignited fire burned about one acre in the 87,000-acre state park.

No structures have been burned in any of the fires, which have been relegated mainly to brush and rural areas, CDF said.

The firefighters have been able to more easily get to the Annie Fire due to the city’s decision to let them use one-half of Christmas Hill Park for staging. According to Joe Kline, public information officer for the city, the decision means walking a tightrope of keeping both the CDF and the community happy.

“There have been some major developments (since the city decided not to have CDF use the park),” Kline said. “There’s several more fires that popped up in South Valley.”

The Annie Fire was sparked Tuesday afternoon and was the main deciding factor in the city letting CDF set up shop in town.

The firefighters are using the Ranch side of the park, but the Park side will remain open for use. Through traffic also has been blocked, but parkgoers can access the Ranch side from the east entrance.

“They’re only using a small portion of the park,” Morgan said.

Staff Writer Eric Leins and Photo Editor James Mohs contributed to this story.