Wildfire Evacuation Route signs being installed

Wildfire Evacuation Route in Los GatosThe Town of Los Gatos takes its responsibility for minimizing risk from flood, fire, earthquake, or other disasters seriously.  A few months ago, I began to notice “Flood evacuation route” signs.  First I noticed it along Blossom Hill Road, close to the Highway 17 over crossing, and later on Lark Avenue.  (Lexington Reservoir  is located further down the highway and a break in the dam would bring tons of water screaming down the highway 17 corridor.)  Seemed like a wise idea, given that we have that and also Vasona Lake right here.

Additionally, though, last week I saw a “Wildfire Evacuation Route” sign too.  It was located on Prospect Avenue and Kimble Avenue, across from the new Sorellas housing development which is currently under construction by Summerhill (formerly the Holy Names Sisters convent and Casa Maria Montessori School).

If you live in a woodsy or mountainous area, the odds are good that your property is located in a zone earmarked as high risk for wildfires, and you’ve been notified that brush must be cleared 100 feet away from your house or structure annually to create “defensible space”. (Some of the best Los Gatos real estate can be found in those areas!) What isn’t always so apparent is where to go in the case of a wildfire.  These new signs should help to improve safety in case of a serious fire.

You may not know that the town has some helpful resources online, too.  You can find them here:


CalFire flier on creating 100′ of defensible space around your home (pdf)

Other helpful info:

Flood evacuation information on the town’s website

72-Hour Emergency Preparedness Kit Checklist (pdf)

“Los Gatos Prepared” revised

Statement of purpose on the Los Gatos Prepared page:
Empowering Community Self-Sufficiency towards the ultimate goal of every resident and business in Los Gatos having the awareness, skills, and resources necessary to be self-sufficient in the event of an  earthquake, fire, flood, or possible flu pandemic

Los Gatos Fires and the Los Gatos Fire Department

fire articleLos Gatos Fire Department History

Fire was a major danger in Los Gatos in the 1800s. Buildings were made of wood, including sidewalks (think boardwalk), and most appliances – light, heat, cooking – still used an open flame. Fire was a greater, more present danger than local wildlife (cougars and grizzlies). In its early years, the town relied on bucket brigades, finally graduating to two volunteer Hose Companies and a Hook and Ladder Company in around 1886. The Cold Spring Water Company of Los Gatos filed to incorporate in December 1890 with the stated purpose to “introduce water for domestic and fire purposes into the town of Los Gatos.”. In 1888 the town passed an ordinance to provide for the organization of a dedicated Fire Department, and perhaps just in time. A major cartridge fire in July of 1891 leveled many of the town’s businesses, and saw the shift of the business district from the east bank to the west bank of the Los Gatos Creek – and it has remained so to this day.

While many major fires destroyed homes, stores, hotels, and even an opera house, the worst is often said to be the 1901 fire.

Read moreLos Gatos Fires and the Los Gatos Fire Department

Vista del Monte Arson

November 10, 2011

Yesterday Sheila Sanchez of Los Gatos Patch wrote a news article on the Los Gatos fire & dog rescue in the Vista del Monte neighborhood and relayed that it appears to be a case of arson.  She begins:

Santa Clara County Fire investigators are saying a fire that broke out the evening of Oct. 28 at a single-story home located at 194 Vista Del Monte is arson and that damages to the property are estimated at nearly $300,000.

Please read the whole article, “Arson Suspected in Dog-Rescue Fire“, on Los Gatos Patch.

Campbell Fire Near Los Gatos Border Fills Sky with Smoke

June 13, 2008

View of part of the 2 alarm blaze as seen from Highway 880/17

Tonight another fire, this one smaller but more local, darkened the skies over the western part of the Santa Clara Valley with smoke. At about 3pm, a grass fire broke out close to the onramp from San Tomas Expressway in Campbell onto Highway 17 southbound toward Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. By 4:30 or so, when I drove through, the plume of smoke rising was quite substantial. And by evening, the air was positively eerie in Los Gatos with strange tints coloring the sky and the landscape.

View of the smokey sky from Belwood of Los Gatos on June 13, 2008 - Photo by Clair Handy

The late afternoon and early evening sky was a taupe color in places. Light coming in through the windows of our home was tinted a tungsten type of hue. This photo taken by Clair Handy from Bacigalupi Drive in Los Gatos (in Belwood of Los Gatos).

View of the smoke-filled sky in Belwood of Los Gatos on June 13, 2008. Photo by Clair Handy.

Another neighborhood view in Belwood.

The sun turned to a bright orange ball against the tinge of brown from the grass fire in Campbell.(Photo by Clair Handy)

View from the Handy Family backyard in Los Gatos – the wind made the smoke-filled areas very distinct from the cleaner sections of sky.

View of the palm trees on Harwood Road in Los Gatos with the strange backdrop of a smokey sky.

A (non-enhanced) view of nearby palm trees. The whole sky was just creepy looking.All of these pictures are unedited except for cropping, of course.

Sunset as viewed on Bacigalupi Drive in east Los Gatos on June 13, 2008. Amazing sky.

My sister, Barb, is visiting for a few days and she commented that the sky reminded of of when Mt St. Helen’s blew in 1980. I was not around for that, but heard plenty about it from my many friends in Washington and Oregon. I don’t think it was quite so dark, but it was certainly odd looking tonight.

Mary Pope-Handy



Smokey and Eerie Skies from The Lick Fire

September 06, 2007

The fire in the eastern foothills of Santa Clara Valley beganalmost 3 days ago and was first spotted from the James LickObservatory – so has been dubbed the Lick Fire. The first day and ahalf, an enormous plume ofsmoke could be seen rising in the hills by south San Jose andMorgan Hill from Henry Coe State Park.  Smoke and haze hungover the eastern range; it was in contrast to the rest of the areabetween there and the coastal foothills, where thesky remained blue.

But chiarascura didn’t last. For a day now, the haze hasthickened. Smoke is pouring in, and not much of it seems to beescaping.

We can’t see the plume anymore. We can’t even see that bank ofhills anymore. Too much smoke.

A 7:15 am view of the sun from close to Los Gatos at Blossom Hill Road and Camden Avenue, Sept 6 2007

This morning I drove my kids toschool in and near downtown San Jose (Notre Dame High School andBellarmine College Prep). Heading east on Blossom Hill Road, wewere shocked at the eeriely discolored sun hanging low in the sky.It was a pinkish red, a look that you might see just at sunseton a fall or summer evening – but not when the sun was so high inthe sky. (Photo above taken with Palm Treo.) It was justcreepy.

Because the fire is located in a remote region of the park, withrough terrain and no roads, it’s difficult to get close enough toeven fight it.

Often fires begin because of a cigarette tossedcarelessly. Earlier this summer, a fire ignited whensomeone used a power mower to cut back brush and a spark it threwironically began the blaze that clearing the brush was intended toprevent.

This fire was said to have been caused by a person burningthings in a barrell at a private hunting camp. No one has beennamed, but this mishap turned nightmare could turn into a financialliabilty approaching two million dollars. The fire may grow to30,000 acres and will go down as one of the largest ever in theSilicon Valley area.

Today the heat will be at a high for the week, which means that thesmoke will continue to accumulate, firefighters will still contendwith extreme conditions and the fire will have no natural incentiveto stop. When will it be contained? No one knows, but theyhave a long way to go.

Rain would be good right about now.

Fighting Fire With … Wine

April 25, 2007

wine pouringOne of my favorite Los Gatos stories, or series of stories, was of mountain vintners who fought fire with wine.

That’s right. The as the fires raged, water ran out, so they used the wine to fight the fires.

That might seem shocking initially  – after all, it’s the loss of a year’s work. But if the vines were consumed by fire, it could take 20 years to get them back to their previous level of productivity.

And can you imagine how the townsfolk felt when the Los Gatos Creek ran red from Cabernet or Merlot or Claret? They probably thought it was the end of the world!

I think it is in line with the entrepenurial spirit of our valley that even in fighting fires, these folks were truly thinking outside the box.  They were willing to try something offbeat to protect the future.

Last Sunday was Earth Day.  And it got me to thinking about what we can do. . . .

I know that we in Los Gatos can help create innovative solutions to ecological problems.  Sometimes the answer is right in front of us and we only have to be thinking differently to recognize it.  The townsfolk care about solar energy and other conservation approaches.  “Fighting fire with wine” was a great concept that worked – twice.   I think it’s time for the creativity of Los Gatos to emerge to help solve the problems of the land in a new era.  What are the solutions to today’s environmental crises that are at our fingertips but we’re just not recognizing yet?