Firefighters on alert as fire season begins


"We're looking to see if we see any unsafe acts by anyone, and we're also at the same time, checking to see if we do happen to see a column of smoke," Lt. Jacob Holmes told ABC7 during a patrol Saturday.

It was a day of firsts for the Oakland Fire Department. It was the first Red Flag Warning of the year, the first day with the dangerous combination of low humidity and high wind, and the first day of patrols.

The fire season has officially started.

"It's very stressful. We have more people out. They're out having fun. There's more chances of fires to start with the wind and the flashy fuels we have right now," Battalion Chief Edward Kilmartin told ABC7.

"You have light fuels, medium fuels, heavy fuels," Holmes explained.

The mixture of vegetation and steep slopes makes the Oakland Hills prime fire territory and a challenging response area for firefighters. That is why prevention is key, keeping a good defensible space, cutting back limbs and clearing yards.

"Here is an example of a property being out of compliance," Holmes pointed out during a patrol. "Even though it looks like a small area, this can be more dangerous than if there was a lot of heavier, dense fuel."

Tall, dry grass helped fuel a fire Friday, at the bottom of Mount Diablo. The wild fire moved quickly, but firefighters were able to keep the flames away from homes. However, in the Oakland Hills, houses are built closer together and the risks are greater.

Homeowners are worryied about incidents like one where a neighbor recently cleared his lot but left all the shrubs on the side of the road. Some residents in the area have called the city to report the neighbor to see if vegetation management will remove some debris, but it turns out, it is the land owner's responsibility and he does not live in the area.

"I don't want to have a fire like they did 20 years ago. It makes me very nervous," neighbor Carol Lourie said. "Even though I just moved to the neighborhood, I don't want to lose my house."

Firefighters will start citing people for not clearing their land on June 15. First, homeowners will get a warning. If that gets ignored, the city will hire an outside company to clear out the land and bill the homeowner.

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