Nearly one month’s worth of grass fires in five-hour period; unprecedented level of fire activity strains resources, limits responses
By Steve Hill, Public Information Officer, Contra Costa County Fire Protection District
Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (Con Fire) today made available details of the unprecedented fire and EMS activity, much of it fireworks related, occurring across the District during the Independence Day holiday weekend.
For the five-hour period from 7 p.m. to midnight on July 4, the District dispatched firefighting resources to 63 grass, structure other fires, including those burning in backyards, in dumpsters, and vehicles. For the entire Independence Day weekend, responses numbered 93 for fires.
In spite of 60-plus grass, vegetation and other exterior fires burning across the District on the evening of the Fourth, not a single structure was lost as a result of these fires. In one of the most dangerous fires, initially reported just before 11 p.m. in the vicinity of Southwood Drive and Oak Hills Drive in Pittsburg, more than 20 homes were threatened with fire burning to within 30 feet of several. Some 20 fire apparatus and crews worked for more than hour to contain this blaze without involvement of any homes.
Of the 13 structure fires occurring over the weekend, three are known to have, and others are suspected of having been, caused by illegal fireworks use. One was caused by a homeowner placing expended fireworks in a garbage can next to their home, which ignited the can’s contents, quickly spreading to the home’s exterior. In the second case, fireworks set off in an adjacent alleyway started a fire in a nearby home. Thanks to quick reporting and fire responses, damage in each of these cases was minor.
In the busiest hours of the weekend, between 9 and 11 p.m. on the evening of the Fourth, dispatchers were stretched to the limit, as were firefighters, by an unprecedented level of calls to the Contra Costa Regional Fire Communications Center. Crews were dispatched to nearly 50 fire incidents alone. At the height of this two-hour period, due to demand for emergency services, Con Fire was forced to limit assignments to all but structure fires to a single fire engine, increasing risks for both residents and firefighters.
Calls for emergency medical services were also up significantly over normal, non-holiday periods with some of this increase likely attributable to fireworks activity. On July 3, ambulances were dispatched on 272 EMS calls, which resulted in 182 patient transports. On the Fourth, 378 EMS incidents were responded to with 232 transported and on July 5, there were a total of 325 EMS incidents responded to with 194 transports made. During a non-holiday period, an average of 200 daily transports would be expected.
Thanks to considerable and costly preparation by Con Fire and other fire jurisdictions, disaster was in large part averted in Contra Costa County. Con Fire’s preparations included adding additional staffing including two firefighting bulldozers, hand crew 12, an additional wildland fire engine and crew, a water tender and crew, an additional battalion chief, an additional dispatcher, and all four fire investigators.
Working with fire agencies across the region, two firefighting task forces were also established consisting of four firefighting apparatus, crews and a chief officer each. One task force was available July 3 and two on the evening of the Fourth. Cooperating agencies included Con Fire, East Bay Regional Parks District, the Federal Fire Department MOTCO, and San Ramon Valley, East Contra Costa, and Moraga-Orinda Fire Protection Districts.