OAKLAND (CBS SF) — One of the earliest Red Flag Warnings in years has East Bay homeowners scrambling to take measures to protect their homes from a potential wildfire.
Traditionally, the month of May is when homeowners would manage and cut down on vegetation. But this year’s tinder-dry drought conditions and a Red Flag weather system descending across the San Francisco Bay area this weekend, has added urgency to their preparations.
🚩UPDATE: the Red Flag Warning for the East Bay Hills has been EXTENDED to 6pm Tuesday, May 11. 🚩 pic.twitter.com/nKkLT8Sbqu
— Oakland Fire Department (CA) (@OaklandFireCA) May 9, 2021
On Sunday, the National Weather Service extended the red flag warning to 6 o’clock Tuesday evening for the North and East Bay hills and the East Bay valleys. The warning was initially set to expire Monday morning but the weather service said conditions which include gusty north- to northeast winds, low humidity and high temperatures would persist.
“It’s hot and dry and it’s very important to have defensible space,” said Danville homeowner Doug Thompson.
He has hired a contractor to clear the dry grass in his backyard next week.
“It is important to do because we’ve had personal experience of what can happen in just a heartbeat,” said Thompson.
About six to eight years ago, a fast-moving fire almost took out Thompson’s home.
“I just stepped out on my back deck and the entire back yard was filled with smoke,” Thompson said. “And I didn’t know what the heck was going to happen. So creating a defensible space probably is what saved our neighbors and saved us.”
Battalion Chief Chris Landry of the Oakland Fire Department said this year’s wildfire season is off to a quick start.
“This (Red Flag warnings) is usually a September, October thing,” he said. “So this is unprecedented to have a Red Flag warning in May.”
Landry said the drought has also caused vegetation to dry up much earlier, filling the hills with fuel for wildfires. Combine the dry fuel with the weather, the fire danger is extreme this weekend.
“We have our crews out patrolling,” he said. “They’re looking for sources of ignition such as tall grasses, things like this. We’re also looking for people that are maybe out barbequing and enjoying this warm weather and doing some education.”
Cal Fire has already notified cities of fewer available hand crews.
“If we do get an emergency here in Oakland, we’re not going to get the hand crews we used to receive,” Landry said.
Thompson is hoping preparation will keep his home and family safe.
“If this is any example of the way this season is going to go, there’s going to be a lot of fires that are going to create a lot of damage and a lot of heartache for a lot of people,” said Thompson.