OAKLAND -- Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed is busy safeguarding the city's neighborhoods against the threat of fire amid this summer's particularly dire conditions.
In addition to the dry and hot summer, the city is facing an annual loss of $1.7 million in revenue provided by the Wildfire Prevention Assessment District. A measure to renew the district was narrowly defeated in November 2014.
"I'm really concerned about the wildfire season given the drought and the vegetation," Reed said. She said that creating a new prevention plan is even more critical this year, given the drought conditions.
"Years ago, we had a very defined fire season, but last year, we never called an end last year to fire season. We had grass fires all year," Reed said. "Now fire prevention is a year-round issue that we have to address and change our mindset. We have to move toward vegetation management year-round."
Oakland residents had a wake-up call in June when six fires burned a total of 4.5 acres near Dimond Canyon, possibly caused by arson. Another fire was put out behind Kaiser Elementary School, with the assistance of the school's principal, Darren Avent, on June 11.
"The recent fires in Dimond Canyon are a reminder of how vulnerable our (Oakland hills) environment," said District 4 Councilmember Libby Schaaf.
Schaaf organized a July 3 meeting to discuss the investigation of the recent fires and to educate the public on how people can safeguard their properties and communities.
At the meeting, Schaaf reminded residents that 11.5 acres burned in Joaquin Miller Park including an old Girl Scout property, the Sinewik cabin, last year. That fire was sparked by illegal fireworks.
"If you don't think that fireworks are dangerous and cause damage, you are wrong," said Schaaf, who said she witnessed two fires and an electrocution on her ridealong with police on the Fourth of July this year.
"Oaklanders have every right to be furious at the state of illegal fireworks this year, and I will continue to do everything I can to shut down this lawless attitude," Schaaf continued.
Reed and Schaaf urged residents to call 911 if they see smoke. Early intervention in a fire can make all the difference.
The topography of may hills neighborhoods also poses serious challenges to the department. Residents are parking on already narrow streets blocking access to fire rigs.
"There is nothing worse than having the resources to respond and not having the access," Reed said. "I know that parking is priceless, but lives are priceless too."
The good news is that the city still has funds from the Wildfire Prevention Assessment District through the end of the fiscal year and for the next fiscal year, Reed said.
"We are studying to determine what we really need," Reed said. She pointed out hiring goats to graze and clear grass on the hillsides and clearance of the public right-of-way are among the most critical fire prevention measures.
The 26,000 inspections of private property will continue by the Fire Department. The inspections were never funded by the district.
Last year, 400 properties were not brought into compliance. The city has allocated $100,000 to achieve compliance, but it's not enough, Reed said. Reed's goal is to strengthen the reinforcement measures for noncompliant properties.
The first and second inspections are done by the neighborhood fire companies. The inspections department currently consists of one full-time supervisor, one full-time inspector and three part-time inspectors.
The 2015 budget will add a civilian fire marshal in charge of fire prevention, as well as an assistant fire marshal who will be a sworn firefighter, as well as an additional full-time inspector. The City Council is looking for additional funding to add an another full-time inspector, Reed said.
The Fire Department could take another financial hit if a proposal replacing Measure Y is passed Tuesday by the City Council. Measure Y allotted $4 million for fire staffing and a mentoring program. The new measure plan would reduce funding to $2 million, Schaaf said.