Oakland cracks down on illegal fire activity

July 1, 2009 7:22:34 PM PDT
The city of Oakland is trying to get out in front of the coming fire season. The police and fire departments are teaming up to crack down on kids building bonfires in Joaquin Miller Park and anyone else breaking the rules.

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Joaquin Miller Park is a 500-acre wilderness that comes with a long list of rules. The park is closed at night and on days that pose a high fire danger.

"We're a very unusual city, we basically have an urban forest right in the center of our city and we have to take extra precautions," Oakland City Council member Jean Quan said.

Quan says the park, and everyone who lives near it, are being threatened by groups of young people who come in at night when it is closed and party with alcohol and bonfires.

"The last fire we had was actually right in the middle of the trail in the redwoods, so they just went out in the middle of a trail, put some wood on the trail and lit a fire, and that one was still smoldering next morning," Oakland ranger Kent McNab said.

So the fire department is teaming up with rangers and police to help patrol the park and crack-down on violators by writing citations for everything from illegal parking on Skyline to un-permitted alcohol and un-permitted fires.

"If your kids are going out on a Saturday night and taking your car they could come home with over $1,000 in fines," Quan said.

"Having been here for the 1991 fire, it was something that was horrific for the city of Oakland and also Northern California, so we just do not want a repeat of that," Oakland Police Captain Rick Orozco said.

The 1991 Oakland Hills Fire destroyed 3,000 homes and 25 people were killed. That fire was the result of a smaller one that the fire department put out but which reignited after smoldering overnight.

"You may think a fire is out but actually a fire can smolder in grass for months," Oakland Fire battalion Chief Darren White said.

Mas Paderna was 3-years-old during the 1991 firestorm. He is now a city of Oakland camp counselor. Tuesday, Paderna's campers were learning earthquake survival skills.

"We teach themhow to make fire without matches, using a bow drill, it uses friction to ignite a fire," Paderna said.

Their daytime, permitted fire is legal. Paderna says the area is cleared, and water is at the ready.

"We've been doing this for 10 years and we've kept it very safe so far and we hope to keep it that way," Paderna said.

The park is surrounded by homes and the residents are among the 22,000 Oakland residents that pay $65 each year for a special fire protection district that help with things like the extra patrols.

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