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'High Dispatch' Response, Vegetation Trimming Blunts Highway 17 Fire In Santa Cruz Mountains

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- When an SUV caught fire on the shoulder of Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains Saturday, the red flag "warning" changed to "red alert" as the fire quickly ignited the surrounding hillside.

"We hit it from all directions in order to get through traffic and get to it as quickly as possible," said Louisa Rapport of Santa Clara County Fire.

Crews came from Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz County and Cal Fire. It's called high dispatch and it's triggered by the high fire danger weather and fuel conditions.

"We are sending the most number of resources to any vegetation fire that's reported."

But the oversized response is only part of why this fire did not end in a disaster. Two years ago, Santa Clara County began trimming most of the vegetation back from the Highway 17 roadway to slow if not stop a fire in its tracks.

The program cleared a six-mile stretch from the summit to Los Gatos and includes the location of the SUV fire. Firefighters call it a win for fire preparation, in some of the most dangerous conditions possible.

"It had the potential to run up the hillside there off Highway 17 and endanger one of our hillside communities. But the fuel break slowed it down enough for our crews to contain it quickly and really the only loss was the vehicle."

Hillside residents dodged the danger this time, but they know that it's early for these red-flag conditions. Some have already begun planning their evacuation plans, just in case.

"I just thought yesterday, OK what should I get ready to box up this year?" said Leilani Taylor of Scotts Valley.

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