From the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District:
Level of Fire Activity Strains Resources, Prompts Limited Response Plan
CONCORD, CALIF., July 7, 2022 – Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (Con Fire) today made available details of the fire and EMS activity, much of it fireworks related, occurring across the District during the Independence Day holiday weekend.
For the four-hour period from 9 p.m., July 4, to 1 a.m., July 5, the District dispatched crews to 38 fire incidents. This represents at least a 300 percent increase over other Mondays, which in June, averaged nine such fire dispatches per day. For the entire Independence Day weekend, beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 1, fire responses numbered 79. While fire incidents were down 17 percent over last year’ holiday period, it was nonetheless a dangerous weekend with multiple fires caused by, or suspected of having been caused by, fireworks across the District.
Contributing to slightly lower incident numbers were the weather, which was favorable, with low temperatures keeping celebrations indoors while high humidities inhibited and slowed fire growth. Increased fire and law enforcement public information efforts as well as police visibility and enforcement are also believed to have played a role in this year’s reduction.
Calls for emergency medical services were also up significantly over normal, non-holiday periods with some of this increase likely attributable to fireworks activity. On the Fourth, 300 EMS incidents were dispatched with a total of 477 fire and ambulance units responding. On average, Con Fire responds to just over 200 EMS incidents daily. Considerable preparation across the District, including upstaffing of additional dispatchers; two hand crews and equipment; two fire dozers; and the District Operations Center, staffed by multiple chief officers, resulted in rapid and overwhelming responses, which served to limit fire spread, and resultant damage when fires did occur.
In order to ensure necessary resources for the exceptional number of fires anticipated, the District implemented a reduced response plan, which saw the dispatch of a single apparatus, instead of normal multi-apparatus responses, to all but structure fires. While ensuring resource availability for all incidents, these limits necessitated by the overwhelming volume of incidents, increased risks for both residents and firefighters.
In spite of nearly 40 grass, vegetation and other exterior fires burning across the District on the evening of the Fourth, only one structure was significantly damaged in the period. In one of the most dangerous fires, initially reported just after 9 p.m. on Lynbrook Drive in Pittsburg, a home was substantially damaged, displacing its four residents. The fire was sparked by fireworks being set off near its backyard, which ignited a tree in the backyard, burning into the home.
A grassfire along Port Chicago Highway in Bay Point was started in the early evening hours of the Fourth when occupants of a passing car were observed throwing lit fireworks into grass along the roadway. This completely preventable fire burned to 6.5 acres and threatened neighboring homes before being brought under control by a multi-unit response of some 70 fire personnel. As a result of its size and location, this fire kept multiple resources on-scene throughout the evening, unavailable for other emergency responses.
Of the eight structure fires occurring over the entire weekend, one is known and three others are suspected of having been, caused by illegal fireworks use. In the busiest hours of the weekend, between 9 p.m. and midnight on the evening of the Fourth, dispatchers were challenged, as were firefighters, by an unprecedented level of calls to the Contra Costa Regional Fire Communications Center. Crews were dispatched to 33 fire incidents and 100-plus EMS incidents in that period.