SAN JOSE -- All hands were on deck from the San Jose Fire Department when a four-alarm fire erupted on a grassy hillside in South San Jose and advanced on homes and a county park Monday afternoon. Then another blaze broke out six miles away at the Los Lagos public golf course off Tuers Road.
In a span of two hours, nearly 60 percent of the city's available firefighters were committed to two fires, leaving the rest of San Jose covered by a handful of local engine companies and a massive infusion of personnel from neighboring departments.
If another major fire surfaced, it likely would have been fought by a squad made up mostly if not entirely of out-of-town firefighters.
"We were stretched extremely thin," fire Capt. Cleo Doss said. "We would have had to start reaching further out into the state for resources."
They were spared from having to make those difficult decisions Monday. The contingent of firefighters hailing from San Jose, the county, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Moffett Field and the statewide Cal Fire proved to be enough to handle the 125-acre Curie Drive fire in the hills and the Los Lagos fire that consumed six acres.
Amid a summer heat wave and a drought that has turned the rolling foothills surrounding San Jose into continual wildfire fodder, local fire agencies are mirroring their statewide counterparts in bracing for an especially perilous fire season. The region never really got a respite from the last season, as wildfires started popping up in January and forced fire companies that typically took the winter off to staff year-round.
In San Jose on Monday, more than 100 of the typical 170 firefighters on duty in the city were focused on firefighting -- at least 80 of which were assigned to keeping the Curie incident from burning more than grass. After subtracting supervisory, administrative and dedicated rescue and airport staffing, that left a smattering available to handle the various medical and other emergency calls that make up the lion's share of their daily duties.
It all made for an unusual scene in the city as a hodgepodge of fire engines from outside San Jose criss-crossed town to backstop firehouses and respond to calls.
Doss said as the season ramps up, off-duty firefighters will increasingly be called back to work as incidents warrant.
And the help they get from Cal Fire -- like the air tankers that dropped fire retardant on the hillside and the helicopter that scooped up water from Lake Almaden -- will often be occupied by fires in other parts of its wide jurisdiction in the southern portion of Santa Clara County, such as a fire that broke out east of Gilroy around the same time as the two San Jose incidents.
All of which means firefighters, and residents, should prepare for more of what they saw Monday.
"It's going to get crazier," Doss said.
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.