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Seniors, residents mop up from Northern California brush fire

August 8, 1997

LOS GATOS, Calif. (AP) _ Firefighters and residents of a posh wooded neighborhood mopped up this morning from a fire that destroyed three luxury homes and forced the evacuation of 540 people, nearly half of them from a retirement home.

No one was seriously injured in the multi-alarm brush fire, though 11 people from the seniors home had to be taken to the hospital because their medical conditions required special care.

Almost all the people evacuated went home before midnight Thursday or this morning.

The fire, reported Thursday afternoon and contained three hours later, burned through a steep, wooded area filled with luxury homes, California Department of Forestry Battalion Chief Dave Athey said.

Damage from the 15-acre blaze was estimated at $2.5 million, that figure would climb was expected to climb.

A fourth home suffered major damage, a fifth minor damage and three outbuildings were destroyed.

Investigators say the fire was started by tree limbs causing power lines to arc. The hot, windy weather, with temperatures in the 90s and winds up to 24 mph, didn’t help, said Santa Clara County Fire Capt. John Jarvis.

The fire forced the closure of southbound lanes on Highway 17, one of the main thoroughfares between San Jose and Santa Cruz on the Northern California coast, causing a massive traffic jam during the evening commute.

In addition, some 4,400 people lost electricity when power lines were knocked down.

Ambulances helped evacuate more than 240 residents of the Los Gatos Meadows retirement home, including about 50 who could not walk on their own. Another 300 residents of private homes were also evacuated.

Those who weren’t taken to hospitals went to evacuation centers at the First United Methodist Church and Los Gatos High School.

Church members, who were preparing for their weekly barbecue when the fire broke out, found themselves cooking for about 200 of the evacuees. Food was donated by businesses in the town 45 miles south of San Francisco.

Margo Tenold, the associate pastor of First United, said the outpouring of help was amazing.

``At one point somebody asked who was in charge, and I had no idea, because everyone started pitching in so quickly,″ Tenold said.

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