With summer's arrival ushering in California's wildfire season, fire officials in the Tri-Valley area are urging residents to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of vegetation fires and protect themselves in case one breaks out.
The fear of another deadly fire season haunts Californians each year, especially less than two years removed from the devastating 2018 season in which 1.67 million acres burned and 100 people died because of fire incidents -- most notably the Camp Fire in Paradise and Butte County.
The year prior, over 1.5 million acres burned.
So far this year, California has had 3,000 wildland fire incidents, according to Cal Fire. As a result, preparing for wildfire season has become an increased priority for fire agencies around the state, including the Tri-Valley communities.
"We're concerned about fires anywhere in our district, but especially if you live up in an area where a fire can get up and go and run to. It can be any time of year or day that a fire can be disastrous," said Dan McNamara, battalion chief for the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.
Causes of wildfires in the Tri-Valley
Because of increasingly dangerous weather and terrain conditions, Tri-Valley agencies have become wary of potential wildfires. In the last month, Livermore and Pleasanton have had 63 fires incidents; out of those, 32 were vegetation fires.
As recently as Sunday night, Alameda County Fire Department crews responded with Cal Fire to a 30-acre vegetation fire at 8:10 p.m. on Altamont Pass Road and Dyer Road outside Livermore. Officials reported the fire was mainly wind-driven with a moderate rate of speed amid light flashy fuels before being contained.
To prevent more incidents, fire officials recommend homeowners have at least 100 feet of clearance around their residency. Using fire-resistant materials like tile-roof stucco siding instead of wood sided, implementing residential sprinklers, and avoiding planting high flammable tires are also recommended.
"You don't have to get rid of all your landscape, you just need to maintain the landscape you have around your home, especially if you're someone who backs up into open space or interface areas," Alameda County Fire Chief David Rocha said. "We really encourage you to take care of the landscaping, remove any dead vegetation, change out plants and things like that are more fire resistant versus what you may have."
For mowing and weeding dry grass, it is recommended that those chores be done in the morning as winds tend to pick up in the afternoon. With a gust of wind, dry grass and equipment that could spark a flame, a fire could start in seconds.
Sparks from electrical equipment and leftover cigarettes are two common examples of wildfire causes, but anything that is flammable or mechanical could start flames in the right weather. Even a titanium golf club hitting a golf ball off course has caused a local fire incident, according to Joe Testa, deputy chief for the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department.
"We see the well-intended person trying to remove dry grass and weeds in the heat of the day, and they're using a tool that hits a rock or something like that and accidentally hit a spark, or it just overheats itself. It's something that concerns us," Rocha added.
While vegetation fires are the most common, Testa reminds communities that fires could start anywhere. Specifically, urban wildlife places like Pleasanton Ridge that were once well-protected are now at-stake.
"The Pleasanton Ridge was historically fairly well-protected just by how moist it is, it's not the sunny afternoon slope -- it gets shade as the sun goes around towards the west," Testa said. "But that's all changed now."
With Fourth of July approaching, a common concern is that fireworks could start possible wildfires. Although no fireworks have caused fires in the Tri-Valley yet, officials still heed warnings about the pyrotechnic device's risk.
"Fireworks do start fires in our communities every year; it's not a false claim or worry," Testa said. "It happens in our communities every single year. And if it were to get in the wrong spot, it certainly can cause a threat to someone's homes and lives and we just don't want to see that happen."
If a wildland fire does arise, officials encourage residents prepare early for evacuation.
Testa recommends backing cars into a driveway or garage if the day's weather foresees wildfire risk. Power outages are also common during wildfires, so make sure the garage door can open manually or has a battery backup. Keeping essentials like clean clothes, phone chargers, computers and important files together are important while evacuating as well.
Fire officials also recommend family members pick a designated area to meet. Due to social distancing and COVID-19, meeting up in evacuation centers could be in question.
However, at the end of the day, being away from the fire is what's most important, officials said.
"The first thing is if there's a difference between life and death -- we're going with life and we're gonna have to not worry about social distancing," said McNamara. "When you get to an evacuation center or something like that, we're going to have put social distancing into play and things might look a little bit different. Instead of having one evacuation center open, we might have to have three."
In case of a wildfire, even if a formal notice isn't sent out but citizens are concerned about flames spreading to their home, they should evacuate. But what is most emphasized is that the community heed warnings, take precautions and leave when asked by their department.
"A fire could move a large amount in a quick matter of time in a large area. Personally, having been to the majority of the wildfires in the last five years, you can't take anything for granted. Everything is changing so fast," McNamara said. "We tell people: Be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem."