Defensible space is key to protect against fires in ongoing drought

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - Extreme drought conditions have increased wildfire danger this year.

Having defensible space doesn't guarantee your home or business will be saved, but it does give it a fighting chance.

"On hot summer days we typically have more than one fire," Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Captain George Laing said as he stood in the scorched footprint of a recent grassfire.

"A success story is not visually compelling." But the reason to have defensible space is compelling.

"So this is the kind of problem that fires in the summer in California present," Captain Laing explained. "You have fires burning through abated grasses, burning into heavier grasses, which ignite fuels, which burn more intensely, which threaten structures."

The fire off Apollo Road in Antioch was sparked by someone grinding metal. It could have been much worse, had property owners not cut weeds for defensible space.

"Well, it's a less intense fire," explained Laing. "Which means it spreads more slowly and takes less resource to put out." That's key when fire departments like the Contra Costa Fire Protection District are cutting resources to keep tight budgets in check.

"We called fire protection district when the fire was right over there," business owner Michael Clement said pointing to the edge of his building. "It melted up the slats in the fence and just went right across that field."

The flames scorched the paint and burned some wood pallets, but thanks to defensible space and a sprinkler system, the building was okay.

"We (firefighters) had two other vegetation fires burning, so it took us some time to get to this fire," Laing said. "What saved this building, what saved the neighborhood on the other side of the fence there, was the abatement."