Agencies unite against mountain blaze

Dozens of firefighters from San Francisco and San Mateo counties count among the nearly 2,900 who are still fighting the Summit fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Within a few hours of the fire being reported early Thursday morning, three strike teams with firefighters from 15 fire departments in San Mateo County and another strike team from San Francisco joined in the battle.

Since then, the teams have been assigned the duty of protecting structures in case the fire goes their direction, San Mateo Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Borean said.

The fire, located about 30 miles south of Gilroy, had burned more than 3,900 acres, destroyed nearly 29 homes and cost about $6.1 million by Sunday morning, Cal Fire spokeswoman Becky Bamberger said. At that time, it was 50 percent contained with full containment expected as early as Tuesday night.

About 550 homes and 20 commercial buildings remained threatened as of Sunday, and Borean said it was these that firefighters from San Mateo County were protecting. The firefighters were not on the “front line” of the forest fire because the engines sent from the departments lacked four-wheel drive and other capabilities necessary to fight a fire in the middle of the woods, he said.

Though the firefighters he had recently spoken to said they hadn’t fought any blazes yet, structure protection has the potential to get exciting at times, Borean said. Last year, strike teams went to San Diego to fight the fires that swept through the city in October and played a crucial role in saving homes.

“One night, there were six houses that would have burnt down for the action of the 20 guys on my team,” Borean said. “It’s really rewarding to walk away from that and say, ‘Hey, we made a difference today.’”

Lt. Ken Smith of the San Francisco Fire Department said Bay Area residents should consider the Summit Fire a “wakeup call.”

“The Bay Area is relaxed because we haven’t had a major fire in a while,” he said. “But this should remind folks to cut [vegetation] back 100 feet from their homes [if they live near a wooded area] and don’t wait until the last minute to think about the things you want to take if you evacuate.”

kworth@sfexaminer.com  

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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