Fire officials were about to evacuate the neighborhood Monday when they managed to knock down a fast-moving brush fire that lit up a dry eucalyptus grove in northern Monterey County.
Quick response by the California Department of Forestry and others was credited with keeping the flames away from homes along Vega Road in San Miguel Canyon near Prunedale.
Fire officials said the fire started when a dry branch fell onto a power line. Because eucalyptus trees can burn explosively, fire officials were preparing to evacuate four nearby homes before deciding the blaze was controllable.
The fire was on a patch of land owned by the family of Tony Figueroa, a Watsonville police officer who lives on a ranch perched about 100 yards away.
Figueroa said he was walking toward the area where the fire started right before it started.
"I was going down the hill and I heard a loud pop," said Figueroa. "Then I saw a small brush fire."
Figueroa said he turned his back to find a hose, only to turn around and see that the fire had grown dramatically.
"It just started going out of control," he said. "It was pretty crazy."
Figueroa immediately moved his four horses out of a pen about 100 feet from the base of the fire. Firefighters responded within minutes of his call, and requested Figueroa's family and residents of three homes evacuate. It wasn't mandatory, however, so each of the residents waited it out.
Curt Itson, CDF battalion chief, said his crew's quick response allowed it to contain about 50 percent of the blaze within an hour. A total of 17 engines, along with three hand crews and one helicopter, were on hand for assistance.
"These guys did a great job preventing the houses from catching," Itson said. "We'll probably be here through the night."
Trees in the grove were at least 50 feet tall, adding to the danger of such a fire.
"The danger is once the fire hits, they fall," said Itson. "So it's really dangerous for my guys."
Distributed by the Associated Press