While there isn’t really much of an ‘off season’ for fires in California anymore, Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said his department has started its weed abatement effort for 2022 as they look to reduce risks for fire season.
The goal of the program, the chief said, is knocking down vegetation on private property that could provide fuel for fires as the weather gets warmer and the grasses dry out.
“There are some that know to do it, they call us and tell us that they are doing the weed abatement,” Mello explained. “Others, we send a letter notifying them of the problem, the weed hazard.”
Mello said there are “probably about 40” identified problem areas in the fire department’s jurisdiction.
“The first notices have gone out and the second notices are beginning to go out,” the chief said, with firefighters checking on the identified areas to see if the property owners have complied with the directive to address the situation.
The city of Escalon has its own enforcement program within the city limits, Mello said, but added that the fire department also cooperates with the city on getting those properties addressed.
In some cases, said the chief, the property owner does not live on site so getting the weed and vegetation hazard dealt with properly can take more time. Or, if the property changes hands, it can be a little harder to track down who is responsible for the clean-up.
“Ultimately the goal is to have everything addressed and cleaned up by the Fourth of July,” Mello said. “We are hopeful that the temperatures stay down. The river is really low right now but the snowpack was late, we should start seeing some more water running in the river soon.”
Escalon Fire Department also has several seasonal firefighters that have started working shifts periodically, with funding for those extra positions coming as part of a COVID relief program, said the chief.
“We will have them through the end of the year, Dec. 31,” he said of the added staff, though their shifts will vary depending on availability.
And while Mello said the department is focusing on the weed abatement program right now, they are also very aware of the arrival of summer looming on the horizon. That will mean more people in the Stanislaus River and that typically sees firefighters responding to the waterway several times during the hot months.
“The river doesn’t go in a circle,” Mello said, noting that many rafters or those using inner tubes to float down the Stanislaus often mistakenly think they will be able to ‘circle around’ and get out of the river where they went in. Many times, said the chief, firefighters respond to reports of missing rafters only to find they have emerged downstream, far away from their intended destination.
Firefighters were also busy with a couple of potentially significant calls this past week. A crew responded to an almond hull fire with a water tender, providing mutual aid to Modesto Fire Department on that call in Oakdale on Thursday morning, April 21 and a vehicle vs. train crash on Friday night, April 22 made for some tense moments.
That incident, in which a car got stuck on the tracks while attempting a right turn near the Highway 120/McHenry Avenue intersection, occurred shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Friday.
The occupants of the car got out safely, though the car was then struck by the oncoming train and pushed from the intersection down the tracks to the area of the city’s Main Street Park, where it burst into flames. Fire crews responding had to cut a portion of the fence behind the park to access the vehicle and extinguish the fire.