fire preparations in yard
COACH - Tyrone Willingham showing how he prepared his front yard for this year’s fire season. (Dinah Cotton / Los Gatan)

On May 29 around 2pm, Shadi Allen, a resident of Mountain Laurel Lane in Los Gatos, became aware of a possible fire while she was on the second floor of her home. She smelled smoke wafting through the bedrooms, then looked out of a window.

That’s when she saw the grayish cloud moving across the backyard. This all could only mean one thing: fire. And it was close. She dialed 911 and ran outside clutching fire extinguishers.

The contracting company workers, who’d been repairing a concrete fence, were coming towards her—away from a small brush fire. A spark from their equipment had apparently set the recently mowed field ablaze, she told the Los Gatan. And this fire was moving fast.

Shadi outside
AFTERMATH – Shadi Allen in front of the brush fire area next to her home. (Dinah Cotton / Los Gatan)

The workers took the fire extinguishers and raced back towards the flames, in an attempt to prevent the fire from spreading. As Allen started to pull the garden hose towards the blaze (which was moving rapidly in the direction of her neighbors’ driveway), she could hear the distant wail of sirens. Santa Clara County Fire Department (SCCFD) was on its way.

This incident, near Rocky Ridge Trail, could’ve been the birthplace of a major catastrophe. As the skilled team from SCCFD put this brush fire under their capable control, the neighbors heaved a huge sigh of relief.

According to Erica Ray, an information specialist with SCCFD, a letter was mailed Feb. 22 to property owners in designated fire hazard zones. This informed recipients they had until April 1 to bring their property into fire code compliance.

Due to these “Enforced Safety Regulations” being followed by the Mountain Laurel Lane community, homes were saved, fire officials say. The flames were halted before they could travel up hillsides brimming with perfect fuel for brush fires. The fire wasn’t even allowed onto the property of neighbor Tyrone Willingham, a retired Notre Dame and Stanford football coach.

overhead photo
OVERVIEW – An aerial view clearly demonstrates how effectively the blaze was contained. (Erica Ray / SCCFD)

Allen had just had her field mowed 10 days prior to this incident, and Willingham’s property had been cleared, as well. “We cut (the grass) every year,” Allen said. “This year, we had to wait till the grass was dry.” And it had grown quite tall—around five feet high. “We always try to have it cut by Memorial Day,” she said. “This year, we had more rain than usual, so there was still some green grass. We had to wait ‘till it was dry, and then we cut it.” She said she was glad the contracting company was available at that point. “Unfortunately, the contractors inadvertently started the fire after we cut the grass,” said Allen.

“Take it seriously, when you get that letter from the fire department,” said Allen, who is now a major proponent of defensible space. “Save your home; save yourself; save your community—take it seriously,” she continued. “We have such dry summers. This is something that should not be overlooked.”

Allen shared her story with the media at a June 12 event. SCCFD Fire Captain Matt Mokhtarian also spoke. “We are here at the site of a recent vegetation fire to highlight the work done by homeowners that allowed fire crews to safely combat this incident,” he said. “County Fire was dispatched to a vegetation fire in the area of Hicks Road and Shannon Road, and one home was determined to be immediately threatened.” The fire was brought under control in less than an hour.

FIREFIGHTERS – SCCFD Capt. Matt Mokhtarian looks on as Hazardous Materials Assistant Fire Marshal Jeremy Davis lauds a Los Gatos neighborhood for following defensible space rules in recent weeks. (Erica Ray / SCCFD)

Assistant Fire SCCFD Marshal Jeremy Davis said the preventative efforts by the residents made a huge difference to extinguishing the fire quickly. “Maintain defensible space—100 feet of it around your structures,” he said. “Mow down the grasses…We go to the edge of the fire when we arrive on scene looking for defensible space. We defend there.”

Willingham spoke next, praising his neighbors. “We followed the letter about what we should do on our property—our entire community also did,” he said. “Defensible space was key…There is no playbook for fires. We followed all of the suggestions in the letter and had a positive outcome. We are grateful for SCCFD’s quick response and Allen’s call to 911.”

He pointed to where the fire had inched its way right up to the edge of his driveway. His home and beautiful landscaping were still intact.

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