Two-thirds of Contra Costa at risk of fire, chief says

As the risk of a destructive forest fire approaches this fall, the Contra Costa County Fire Chief is sounding the alarm – signaling that two-thirds of the county is currently classified as a fire risk area.

“Two-thirds of the county is considered a fire hazard severity zone,” Contra Costa Fire Protection District Fire Chief Lewis Broschard III said. Broschard detailed the district’s plan for the current wildfire season at the county supervisors meeting on July 23.

In his report, Broschard said the district responded to 390 fires in 2018, an average of two fires per day during the fire season. He said the fire season lasted 192 days last year.

Virtually all of the fires, he said, were caused by people, either from smoking, faulty vehicles, arson or fires in open spaces.

He also said the fire season will be just as dangerous as the past two years for a variety of reasons.

“This year has a much higher and much denser fuel load than previous years, mostly in our grasses, and that is due to the incredible amount of rain we received,” said Broschard. He also noted the forecast for the rest of the summer and this fall, which calls for continued heat, low humidity and winds.

The fire season will be dangerous in and around Contra Costa County, according to the report.

“Obviously that could happen here,” he said of the threat of fires. He said the county has densely populated areas with significant vegetation and hilly terrain and that the county’s profiles are similar to those of Napa and Sonoma counties, which have been devastated in the past two years by fires. deadly forest.

State fire investigators determined that PG&E equipment caused 17 destructive fires in 2017, but also found that the utility did not cause the fatal Tubbs blaze that razed neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, one of the many hells of October 2017. PG&E reported experiencing equipment failures near the origin of the November camp fire in Butte County, which killed at least 86 people and basically destroyed the town of Paradise.

Broschard said this fire season has the added new factor of power cuts planned by Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E said it could trigger planned power outages to reduce the likelihood of a fire and keep customers and communities safe.

PG&E said the power could be shut off for up to five days.

“The grocery store will not be open, the gas station will not be open, the refrigerator will not work,” said Broschard. “These kinds of things have to be taken into account. It probably won’t happen county-wide at the same time, but it could affect a city or region you live in and even the one next door.

The utility would declare a power outage under the following conditions: a red flag warning by the National Weather Service; low humidity conditions; a forecast of winds greater than 25 mph and wind gusts greater than 45 mph; and dry fuel on the ground.

The chief urged people to plan ahead for power outages that could last for days. He also recommended: sign up for county emergency alerts at https://cwsalerts.com, prepare homes and properties for a wildfire, develop a family escape plan, and make an emergency supplies kit.

At their July 23 meeting, Contra Costa County supervisors also approved a 64% increase in the fire district installation fee. Supervisors Diane Burgis, Karen Mitchoff and Federal Glover voted in favor of the increase. Supervisors Candace Anderson and John Gioia were absent from the meeting.

The fees, which are paid by the developers, go towards the expenses of the fire district. The increase is expected to begin on November 1.

The 64% increase means fees will now be $ 970 for a house, $ 460 for a multi-family dwelling unit and $ 579 to $ 662 per 1,000 square feet for office, commercial and industrial development. .

This represents an increase from the current Fire District charge of $ 591 per home, $ 285 per multi-family dwelling unit and $ 219 to $ 376 per 1,000 square feet for office, commercial and industrial development.

The Fire District provides services to the towns of Antioch, Clayton, Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, San Pablo, Walnut Creek and the unincorporated parts of Contra Costa County. The Fire District covers over 310 square miles with approximately 730,000 residents and employees.

The number of people in the Fire District is expected to increase 22%, from 162,000 to 892,000 by 2040, according to a county report. And the district saw a 44% increase in service calls from 2009 to 2018, according to the report.

The fee program was established in the mid-1980s by the Riverview Fire District covering Antioch, Bay Point and Pittsburg. This district was then consolidated into the County Fire District. In 2017, a report from the Fire District concluded that the fee increases were justified to meet the growing needs and demands of the district.

The current fees were set in 2006, 13 years ago. Brouschard said the 64% increase has averaged around 5% per year over the 13-year period since the last fee increase.

Ahead of the vote, Supervisor Burgis said she was against a large increase and wanted to consider setting inflationary adjustments in the future.

“Sixty-four percent sounds like a lot and it’s a lot, and I’m interested in phasing and grandfathering because it’s really expensive to build right now when you budget and plan for all of this,” Burgis said.

“If there is a larger amount that you are going to have to manage, it can have an impact. We have a housing crisis right now, so we need to make sure these things are being built, ”she said.

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