There it was, just standing there, swaying gently in the summer wind and minding its own business. A single palm tree. Tall, gallant, and utterly annoyed by a bothersome electric wire that had inched closer and closer over time.
The palm had been quietly slicing away at the wire with its razor-sharp frond, probably hoping to one day rid itself of the pest. Over time, the electric line's insulation wore thin.
Then, Wednesday afternoon, the palm cut too far. The wire could take no more, and just before 2:55 p.m., it unleashed approximately 12,000 volts of raw fury, sending electricity coursing down the tree to the ground.
The tree, beyond any chance of revenge, ignited, its fronds melting in ruin, and sent a dark plume into the air, which caused a concerned resident to call in the Palo Alto Fire Department.
“We arrived on scene and we could see a palm tree smoking from the front,” said Acting Battalion Commander Doug Conn. “The smoke was kind of drifting around the neighborhood."
Firefighters launched a response that included Palo Alto Fire Engines 3, 4, Rescue-2, Truck-6, Medics, the Battalion Chief, Palo Alto Utility and tree crews, and police.
The palm tree was aflame behind 2751 Randers Ct. Engine 3 readied its on-board hose and was about to do battle when a firefighter heard a strange crackling noise.
“They could hear the electric line making contact with the palm front,” Conn said. “Water’s conductive and we don’t want to shock anybody,” he said, so they called the utility, which shut off power to 51 residents.
Crews then extinguished the fire with water and foam, and Rosewood Drive was closed for about 30 minutes. The whole incident was wrapped up within 45 minutes of crews arriving, Conn said.
“It looked like the electrical insulation had worn away, and the tree acted as a ground,” said Conn.
The tree was heavily damaged in the incident, but no human beings or structures were harmed.