East Contra Costa Co. fire station closes ahead of dangerous fire season

KNIGHTSEN, Calif. (KTVU) - Monday was a day that many people in eastern Contra Costa County were worried about - the day that they lost one more fire station to budget constraints.

The Knightsen fire station shut down for good at 8 a.m. That left thousands of people farther away from their nearest fire crew.

John Meyersieck loves living on Bethel Island right on the Delta. "This is where we plan to retire," he said.

But living here is now far more risky, because help is five miles farther away. "Scares the heck out of me. God forbid. We're as much at risk as anybody else," said Meyersieck.

The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District shuttered the Knightsen fire station after district residents voted down a benefit assessment that would have cost about $100 per year per home.

It also means the temporary closure of a Brentwood fire station is now permanent. "Some of these emergencies will have a different outcome. Where a house, it may have been a single house or room and contents, it may be the whole house. It could be two homes," explained Fire District Chief Hugh Henderson.

The fire district covers 249 square miles east of Mt. Diablo, and some 105,000 residents, now with just three fire stations, and nine firefighters on duty. "We'll hope our neighboring agencies are available to help, but unfortunately, there's no guarantees in that."

By comparison, the city of El Cerrito's fire department which also covers Kensington, has three fire stations, covering just five square miles, for about 28,000 residents.

Of course, the closures mean for many people, especially Bethel Island residents, the fire response times are going up. "You're going to see some 15-16 minute response times," said Chief Henderson.

"Yeah, that's if there's no animals in the road, if there's no traffic, probably," said Meyersieck. His neighbor Julianne Stevens added, "Oh that's pretty scary. A few years back, right down the road here, there was a big fire in a home and burned to the ground and burned the next door neighbor's home also."

The fire chief told KTVU in some cases, people's fire insurance could triple in price. Meanwhile, an insurance agent said some residents may no longer be eligible for that kind of coverage.

All of this comes with a very dangerous fire season ahead.