Freeway fire brings smell of smoke, unhealthy air quality to upper school campus


Graphic by Kathy Fang

The location of the small fire that broke out today on the south side of Interstate 280. The fire, which burned briefly before the San Jose Fire Department extinguished it, released smoke that spread across campus and lowered air quality levels.

by Kathy Fang, Muthu Panchanatham, and Irene Yuan

During second period today, a fire on the south side of Interstate 280 caused a brief, sudden wave of smoke to sweep across campus, bringing the air quality index (AQI) to unhealthy levels.

In a school-wide broadcast, Dean of Students Kevin Williamson informed students and faculty of a fire south of campus, on the far side of the southmost freeway wall, whose smoke was visible from the upper school campus for a few minutes.

“There [were] just really large clouds of smoke coming in, in waves with the wind,” said Emma Gurleroglu (10), who was in the southmost stairwell of the RPAC when she spotted smoke over the parking lot through the window. “At first, it was kind of scary because we could tell it was coming from somewhere close to campus, and we didn’t know if we were going to have a fire drill or something like that.”

The fire has been contained and extinguished by the San Jose Fire Department, and the smoke soon faded as well.

“The fire itself was not even on the freeway. That’s an important distinction. It was on the opposite side of the freeway over the other side of the wall, very small, confined. There were no flames visible, just smoke,” Assistant Head of Student Affairs Greg Lawson said. “As [the fire department] approached, [I] saw the smoke change from black to white, meaning they put it out, and it was gone within a matter of seconds.”

According to AIRNow, the current AQI in San Jose is 153, which is categorized as “Unhealthy.” AIRNow advises all impacted by the unhealthy air quality to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion and take more breaks during outdoor activities.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Emma Gurleroglu as a junior and Greg Lawson as the one who made the school-wide broadcast. The article has been corrected to reflect those errors.