Ten Years After San Jose’s Worst Fire

Santana Row, which is now San Jose’s go-to destination for upscale shopping and dining but still under construction ten years ago, had erupted in a monstrous fire that rained fiery embers on nearby homes and apartments and tested the city’s fire department like never before, reports Silicon Valley Mercury News.

The Santana Row fire went to 11 alarms and became the worst in San Jose’s history. The San Jose Fire Department — forced for the first time to seek help from outside Santa Clara County — called in more than 200 firefighters and 70 trucks, engines and other vehicles from San Jose and 11 other departments.

The smoke and flames caused more than $100 million in damage to the shopping center site, and falling embers that ignited roofs half a mile away destroyed more than 30 apartments and townhouses in the Moorpark neighborhood, causing $2.5 million in damage.

Despite the immense danger and challenge of battling fires on two fronts, no one was seriously hurt.
Fire officials were never able to determine exactly how the blaze started. But they noted that large construction sites are vulnerable to catastrophic fires before sprinkler systems, drywall and other fireproofing are added to protect the wooden framing.

The city’s fire chief at the time, Manuel Alarcon, was justifiably proud of the success his chronically understaffed department — along with firefighters who rushed to help from as far as San Mateo County — had in containing the catastrophe and limiting the damage.

“When I saw the amount of fire burning, I thought it was amazing there wasn’t more damage,” said San Jose fire Chief William McDonald, who was then chief in Fremont. “I was very impressed.”

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