Crews battling Glass Fire set backfires to reduce fire load

The Glass Fire continues to burn through Napa and Sonoma Counties threatening more than 21,000 structures.

The Vallejo Fire Department is on the front lines and using a unique technique of fighting fire with fire to gain the upper hand.

The tactic has different names, backfire, firing out or a firing plan, but whatever crews call it the idea is the same.

“We’ll pick a strategic location, usually a highway or a large road, and we’ll put fire on the ground ourselves essentially eliminating the fuel that the main fire would burn before it reaches us,” said Kevin Brown with the Vallejo Fire Department.

CALISTOGA, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Firefighter uses a drip torch during a firing operation during the Glass Fire slowly creep across a clearing along Silverado Trail (CA-29) on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 in Calistoga, CA. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times

That’s exactly what the Vallejo Fire Department did Saturday at the Glass Fire. Crews turned Highway 128 between St. Helena and Calistoga into a massive fire break. They waited until night time when there was higher relative humidity and lower temperatures, “It gives us the ability to fight fire on our terms in conditions that are favorable to us the firefighters,” said Brown.

Lighting backfires can be risky, but there’s a lot that goes into it. Brown said they have to take hourly weather reports, gauge how much moisture is in the fuel and do a test fire. All the planning is worth it because backfires are an important strategy firefighters use to gain control.

"We take what the fire wants and take it away from it,” said Brown.