Different staffing method helps fire crews contain Moraga fire

MORAGA, Calif. (KGO) -- Keeping our neighborhoods safe from fire is a major challenge in the effort to build a better Bay Area. We saw just how dangerous it can be during a wildfire in Moraga last week.

In the early morning of October 10, as a wildfire burned in the hills of Moraga, a family friend pounded on the door of John Drennan's home, warning the family to get out.

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"I thought for sure the house was going down. You could see an orange glow in the sky, and knew we were in danger," says Drennan, of the Merrill Fire that burned 50 acres south of Saint Mary's College.

Steve Hill, with the Contra Costa County Fire District, says the fire came within 40 feet of nearby neighborhoods, threatening more than 100 homes and prompting mandatory evacuations. He says pre-positioning extra staff and resources is why the neighborhood is still standing.

"On the 10th of October, we experienced the most dangerous fire weather we have had all season. It could have turned out a lot differently if it weren't for this concept of pre-positioning," explains Hill.

Fire districts already do what's called up-staffing: bringing in extra firefighters and fire engines during fire season. But pre-positioning means setting up additional strike teams and resources in areas under threat due to red flag weather conditions.

"We stood up a strike team of five firefighting apparatus and their crews from various fire jurisdictions... that was staffed and ready to go on a moment's notice," says Hill.

The extra strike teams from Alameda and Solano counties provided the Moraga-Orinda Fire Department with five extra specialized fire engines that can drive on rough terrain, two trucks that can deliver water, two bulldozers and three extra battalion chiefs to help battle the blaze.

They were able to stop the fire within hours and contained it to just 50 acres.

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"Because we had pre-positioned local resources, we were able to dodge a couple of really dangerous bullets," says Hill.

Hill says better weather forecasting helps fire officials predict where to pre-position fire crews. He adds it is all possible due to millions of dollars of new funding that they received this year from the state.

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