Website Advertising
Gilroy Honda
Reader Poll
Do you think state testing scores for schools are an important and worthwhile evaluation tool for public school performance?

Total Votes: 148

View Results
Related Stories
 MH Hillside Neighborhoods Nervously Watch
12:11 PM

 Gavilan Attracting More – Enrollment Up 8%
12:10 PM

 The Scourge of Lazy Garage Sale Hosts
12:03 PM

 Ye Olde Faire Hast Returned
12:02 PM

 Motorcyclist Dies in Four-Vehicle Accident
12:01 PM

 More Waste, More Money, More Countries
12:00 PM

 Fire Scorches Coe Park
10:16 AM

An air tanker drops retardant on a fire inside Coe Park that has burned more than 7,000 acres since Monday afternoon.
Photo by: Chris Riley/Chief Photographer
Fire Scorches Coe Park

10:16 AM

By Emily Alpert and Marilyn Dubil Staff Writers

Henry Coe State Park - A massive, uncontrolled brush fire sweeping through Henry Coe State Park quintupled in size in a single day, as firefighters struggled to push the inferno away from cabins and rangers' homes.

By 5pm Tuesday, more than 7,000 acres were burning - five times as much land as Monday night, when 1,200 acres were aflame. The blaze fed on private and public lands alike, sweeping across a checkerboard of privately-owned ranches and the public park. At its closest point, the fire burned nine miles away from Anderson Reservoir and its surrounding homes.

Firefighters have dubbed it the Lick incident, named for the Lick Observatory, where a 911 caller initially believed it was burning. The observatory is 10 miles from the fire, and isn't threatened.

Six tankers, including a mammoth DC-10 Victorville tanker, dumped coral-pink retardant onto the hills, trying to douse the flames fulminating in the manzanita bushes and oak trees. Four helicopters, seven bulldozers, five water tenders, 26 hand crews and 50 engines aided in the attack. Plumes of smoke - white striped with black - were visible from as far away as Santa Cruz Tuesday afternoon. By 10am Tuesday, 1,200 people from 30 different departments from Hercules to Salinas had contained 10 percent of the blaze, said CalFire spokeswoman Pam Rhoten, and successfully corralled it north of Poverty Flat Road.

"But this 10 percent is the easiest 10 percent," she cautioned.

It didn't sound easy: Firefighters worked against steep terrain, dense brush and a narrow, winding dirt road that served as the sole access to the site. To reach the fire's farthest point, crews faced a three-hour trip along the dirt paths. A handful of firefighters succumbed to heat stroke and beestings, said CalFire spokesman Wayne Connor - but no other injuries were reported.

As of 5pm Tuesday, the fire's cause was unknown. Its only casualty was a small outbuilding, likely a cabin, said Rhoten. Ten hunting cabins and two rangers' homes were evacuated. To the west of the fire, park staff rescued historic artifacts such as memoirs, deeds and a prized painting from a park museum, just in case.

"We pretty much shut the whole park down," said Cameron Bowers, backcountry park ranger.

Bowers noted that the fire hadn't hit the wilderness areas, where fire crews face greater restrictions on tractor use. "We try not to deter [CalFire] from what they're doing - safety comes first."

The fire could imperil the already-endangered red-legged frog, said CalFire spokesman Kevin Colburn, due to the quantity of ash, sediment and retardant flowing into nearby waterways.

Bowers was optimistic that in a dry year, the frogs had already retreated from nearby creeks and wouldn't be impacted.

Dunne Avenue, which leads to the park, was closed Tuesday afternoon at Holiday Lake Estates and at Jackson Ranch, said Rhoten. Only those who can prove their residency will be permitted to enter, she said.

Tuesday, winds clocking 5 to 15 miles per hour were pushing flames to the east, said Steve Anderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

That's good news for firefighters, since the eastern areas are unpopulated. But the winds are expected to swing west and north as early as today, blowing smoke toward Gilroy and Hollister, said NWS meteorologist David Soroka.

The crews prepared themselves at an elaborate command center in Christmas Hill Park, where firefighters were briefed at 6am Tuesday before heading into 24-hour shifts.

CalFire will pay the city of Gilroy $500 a day for the use of the site, said city spokesman Joe Kline.

The north side of the park commonly known as the Ranch site was closed to the public Tuesday, to allow fire engines and equipment to rumble in and out of the camp.

Solorsano Middle School students and parents will be blocked from the Miller Avenue side of the school for student pickup as well. Miller Avenue was shut down Tuesday morning, then re-opened to the public. City staff recommended that residents use an alternate route, if possible.

"On a fire this size, you get a mini-city set up," said Frank Kemper, CalFire spokesman. "There's kitchens, shower units, sleeping space for the inmate crews, laundry service, everything."

Minimum-security inmates clad in orange jumpsuits were pitching khaki tents Tuesday morning in the park.

CalFire partners with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to bring inmate crews to support firefighters, explained Kemper. The inmates will prepare meals for the 1,200 people toiling to snuff the blaze.

Kemper estimated that the fire would take five or six days to extinguish.

"It hasn't burned out here in a long time," reflected Bowers. "The dry year, plus the amount of fuel we had … The park needs to burn."

Emily Alpert covers public safety issues for the Dispatch. Reach her at 847-7158 or at

 Email a Friend  Print Reader Poll: vote now
Homes For Sale
 Gilroy 3BD sells for $639K...

 Gilroy 3BD jumps $140K in under thr...

 Hollister 4BD drops $42.5K in two y...

 San Jose investigator sells for $1....
See More Sell your home
Buy a Car
Sell your car today >>
Find a Job
Post your listing >>