Hills resident alerts neighbors, emergency responders to wildfire

Magdalena Fire” width=
Eric Swildens/Special to the Town Crier
Powerlines knocked down by wind gusts sparked a fire on Magdalena Road in Los Altos Hills early Tuesday morning.

It’s not uncommon for crows to convene on Eric Swildens’ rooftop at daybreak. But the flapping and tapping noises that awoke Swildens at approximately 3 a.m. Tuesday (Nov. 17) didn’t emanate from a bird.

“When I looked up the hill, I saw a shower of sparks that went with the sound,” the Los Altos Hills resident wrote in an email to his neighbors. “Then it happened again. The shower of sparks was like fireworks going off. A power line was down or was being grounded to a tree.”

Alerted by Swildens, Santa Clara County firefighters arrived on scene near the intersection of Magdalena Road and Blandor Way. Within 15 minutes, they managed to contain a vegetation fire ignited by the powerlines. The group effort prevented injuries and damages to nearby homes.

In his email, which Swildens shared with the Town Crier, he described calling 911, setting off his house alarm and then gathering his daughter to evacuate their Magdalena Road home. He drove around the neighborhood, honking his car horn to alert his neighbors of the danger.

“We drove up past the fire and could feel the heat on the road from the fire in the car with the window open,” Swildens wrote. “The winds had caused it to quickly spread and the smoke was getting really bad.”

Investigators determined arcing powerlines downed by high wind gusts caused the blaze.

“Although the fire was kept to small area, the fire is a reminder that fire season has not ended in Santa Clara County and just one spark could have dangerous consequences,” according to a Santa Clara County Fire Department report about the incident. “Residents are reminded to check their properties to assure vegetation is away from powerlines and to have their trees trimmed before the approaching winter season.”

Downed powerlines caused the deadly Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County and killed at least 84 people in November 2018.

According to a National Weather Service forecast, the Los Altos-Los Altos Hills area will experience south wind gusts of up to 25 mph Tuesday. There is also a 70% chance of rain forecasted.

For information about preparing for wildfires, visit

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