OAKLEY (KPIX) — One day after a devastating fire destroyed three homes on Bethel Island in eastern Contra Costa County, residents said they’re frustrated that plans to open a new fire station in nearby Oakley have stalled.
Lee Simpson lives adjacent to one of the three homes that burned and said that, as the minutes ticked by before firefighters arrived Thursday night, he worried his home would be consumed.
“It was like just a matchbox,” he said. “It exploded.” He was lucky but his neighbors’ homes were total losses.
Bethel Island has not had a fire station since budget cuts forced the lone station to close years ago during the recession.
East Contra Costa County Fire District Battalion Chief Ross MacCumber said it can take firefighters up to 15 minutes to get to Bethel Island from the nearest station in Oakley.
“It’s just the time and distance. The mileage to get out here, some of the narrow roads that lead up to this neighborhood on this island cause an issue with responding out here,” he said.
MacCumber said there is a new fire station under construction in Oakley roughly two miles from Bethel Island that would drastically cut response times to the island.
Fire Station 55 is nearly finished. In 2017, after the city of Oakley filed a lawsuit, Shea Homes, the developer of a new Oakley neighborhood, agreed to spend nearly $4 million to build the new fire station near Bethel Island and pay for a fire truck.
MacCumber said there’s just one problem: “We don’t have the staffing to open it yet, even when it’s done.”
In 2017, the East Contra Costa Fire District has three fire stations and only three firefighters per station for a total of nine firefighters on any given night.
MacCumber said the city hopes to remedy the staffing problem soon.
Simpson worries another devastating fire is imminent. “We’re going to have a brand new fire station and it won’t do us any good,” he said.
“Firefighters are still going to have to come from Knightsen or Oakley to get to us.”