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March 4, 2021

Grass fires spark near homeless encampment

GILROY—Sixty firefighters responded to a series of vegetation fires in south Gilroy on Saturday, near a homeless encampment along the railroad tracks, according to Gilroy Fire Department Chief Alan Anderson.
Firefighters received a call about a grass fire near the intersection of Monterey Road and Travel Park Circle around 5:30 p.m.
“While crews were fighting that fire, they noticed another column of smoke south of their location,” Anderson told the Dispatch. More crews arrived to discover another fire burning just before 6 p.m., he said.
At least four separate fires were seen burning along the railroad tracks in the area of Bolsa Road, a primarily agricultural area of the city. Plumes of smoke filled the air, visible from as far away as Morgan Hill.
Onlookers watched as firefighters doused open flames along the tracks behind the Garlic Farm Inn, a popular area for truckers to park overnight. After the fires were extinguished, a CalFire helicopter patrolled the area looking for hot spots, Anderson said.
Firefighters with the GFD, CalFire and South Santa Clara County Fire District contained the blazes in about an hour.
Anderson said it’s not uncommon to see fires in remote areas of Gilroy where homeless often gather, adding that “warming fires, cooking fires and candles being used in lieu of electricity can all contribute to these types of incidents.”
They can be challenging fires to fight because homeless typically congregate in hidden areas “off the beaten path” so their interaction with the public is minimized, Anderson said, speaking generally. That means when there’s a fire or a medical emergency, he said it can be hard for first responders to get where they’re needed.
One firefighter was injured during the Saturday incident after stepping on a nail that punctured his heel, Anderson said Tuesday. The firefighter was treated and released back to active duty.
No other injuries were reported.

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