FRESNO, CA — Fresno Fire has responded to almost 60% more fires so far this year than this time last year.
In just the past week, there have been 146 fires in Fresno – 24 of them structure fires, and 56 of the grass or vegetation fires.
That’s amounted to $10.5 million in property loss and 365 people being displaced so far this year.
“It’s really pushing it to our limits,” said Jay Tracy, an investigator with Fresno Fire. “We’ve got a great stable of investigators. We’re in the process of bringing on a few more reserve investigators, so if we need extra help after hours or on the weekends, we can call them in for assistance.”
Overall, the Department says the response to fires is up 59.77% as compared to last year.
Structure fires are up 28.18% and vegetation fires are up 73.94%.
The Public Information Officer for Fresno Fire, Shane Brown, says that the department fights more working fires than most others in the nation.
There’s a number of factors that play into that.
Brown says Fresno has a high rate of arson, a homeless population that is responsible for starting frequent fires, and a number of vacant structures that catch fire over and over again.
“This is an aggressive department,” said Brown.
He explained the firefighters will respond quickly and save a building, only to have it catch fire again days later.
For instance, there’s an abandoned home on Belmont Circle that Brown says Fresno Fire has gone out to at least ten times in just the past month.
“There are over 1500 vacant lots in Fresno, and not all owners take care of those properties and take care of those tall grasses that they’ve got. City Code Enforcement is dealing with those properties, and they’ve got some pretty hefty penalties if you don’t take care of them,” said Tracy.
Tracy says the past winter’s weather has contributed to the active fire season.
“This year we had a fair amount of rain. We had some late rain that gave that vegetation a late-season boost. With that, we’ve had some more wind I think than we did last year, which really dries out that vegetation and decreases the fuel moisture content.”
There are other issues, too. A lot of homes downtown are old and have wiring issues; and Brown says the way people cook things can even put them at greater risk.
With more people home because of the coronavirus, it’s statistically more likely for there to be accidents at home.
Brown says the number of garage fires is up right now, he believes because people are home with their cars in the garage in the middle of the day, when normally they’d be at work.
These stars are coming out at the same time firefighters are facing a 10% wage cut.
For CAL FIRE, that cut is actually 12.5%, because firefighters will also have to give up a 2.5% raise they’d just negotiated.
In Sacramento, the President of CAL FIRE Local 2881, Tim Edwards, said,
We oppose the cut in wages because it creates chaos within the department and it is fundamentally unfair to firefighters who have been on the front line through the recent historic fire seasons, as well as being first responders to the pandemic, and the range of calls that are made to a full service fire department.
Edwards released the following list of arguments:
- CAL FIRE firefighters are among the lowest-paid firefighters in the state. We have become a training ground for higher-paying local fire departments.
- A 10% pay cut for firefighters would put our entry-level firefighters under minimum wage.
- A 10% pay cut would create compaction within the ranks. This means supervisors would be paid less than those who they supervise.
- CAL FIRE firefighters work a 72-hour workweek compared to a 56-hour workweek for local government fire departments. CAL FIRE already has a retention problem because a veteran CAL FIRE firefighter can start over with a local department and make more money at a lower rank for fewer hours of work.
- This 10% cut in pay will result in an inevitable exodus of qualified supervisors from the department. It makes better financial sense for them and their family if the firefighter retires.
- Our firefighters have been on the front line, responding to COVID-19 medical emergencies and more than 500,000 calls each year for assistance. The proposed 10% cut is frustrating and demoralizing.
- Almost fifty percent of our salaries are paid by the more than 100+ city and county contracts where we provide full service medical and fire protection. Whatever perceived savings this 10% cut will net will be negated by reductions in their payments to the state, resulting in limited savings.