CHP probes Highway 101 palm tree fires

Officials from the California Highway Patrol and the San Jose Fire Department are “looking into” a series of fires that have taken place along a stretch of U.S. Highway 101 in the last few days.

Spokesmen from both agencies stressed that they don’t know if fires are being intentionally set and that they have not opened an official investigation, but that they are “keeping an eye on” the area.

CHP is looking at the stretch of the highway between the connector of interstate highways 680 and 280 and McKee Road, CHP Officer Ross Lee said.

Lee added that there have been a number of fires near homeless encampments, and that they could have been set by heating instruments, cooking instruments or lit objects thrown from vehicles.

CHP and Caltrans personnel routinely document encampments and do clear-outs and sweeps, Lee said.

CHP officers are also working with homeless advocates and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office on issues related to the encampments, according to Lee.

“We’ve always had fires happening in the area,” Lee said, including brush fires and vehicle fires, but several have sparked this week, including two or three over the weekend and a small palm tree fire at around 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Other palm tree fires in the area have been reported recently as well, Lee said.

San Jose Fire Capt. Mitch Matlow said that because his department’s IT staff was on furlough over the holidays, they are only now “scouring the region for certain types of calls,” trying to get accurate numbers.

Matlow said that he has heard of as many as several dozen fires along the highway recently, but that these reports have merely been anecdotal.