Vallejo fire crews get jump on fire season

May 11, 2009 6:05:12 PM PDT
Firefighters in Vallejo used fire to fight fire on a grassy hillside that seems to burn every year and threaten homes.

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It is not even officially fire season yet in California, but this year firefighters say they're not taking any chances. It is early May and conditions are very dry and windy already. There are homes that butt up against the hillside and residents say they've come to accept the fact that a fire could strike at any time.

It's become an annual battle in Vallejo; firefighters fight against the inevitable summertime grassfire on the dry hilltop near the Carquinez Bridge.

"Sometimes they start from the freeway. People will throw a cigarette out the window and it'll burn from that hill all the way here depending on the winds," said Vallejo Fire Capt. Frederick Taylor.

For the first time, the same firefighters which have fought countless fires on the hilltop started a control burn that they quickly extinguished -- hoping the scorched grass will keep them from coming back.

"Every year they predict a bad fire season. Sometimes it happens, sometimes we dodge the bullet on it. We don't want to be in a year where we have a bad fire season and we have something that we haven't done," said Bill Tweedy, Vallejo Fire Department.

So far, firefighters have dodged a bullet. Budget cuts in this bankrupt city have slashed the number of firefighters nearly in half. Stations have closed, but not the one closest to this hotspot.

Residents have dodged a bullet too in 2007 when flames came dangerously close to their homes. Regardless, many weren't too worried about it and some even wondered whether a control burn is necessary.

"It's kind of nerve-racking, but it's just dry grass so it won't cause too much of a problem," said Sean Lawson, a resident.

"Honestly, I never thought it was necessary. All it's doing is making a lot of smoke right now and I hope those people down there have their windows closed," said resident Robina Wisniewski.

Firefighters say it's not a matter of if flames will threaten these homes again, but when.

"So hopefully by doing this you don't have to come back out here again?" asked ABC7's Cecilia Vega.

"Oh no. We will have to come out here," says Capt. Taylor.

One of the reasons the firefighters in Vallejo say they had to do the control burn this year is because the department has had less man power than in years past. With all of the budget cuts, Vallejo has had to close down two fire stations. In previous years they were up to 122 firefighters, but today they're down to just 68.

MORE: ABC7's Bay Area wildfire resource guide and safety tips

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