Community in Crisis

Growing homeless population affecting firefighting resources in Contra Costa County

Bay Area

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (KRON) — A growing homeless population in the East Bay is hindering firefighting resources in Contra Costa County. 

An all too familiar scenario played out this week for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District.

Smoke and flames in high and dry vegetation burned in Antioch as result of a cooking accident at a homeless encampment.

Paul Stolper’s home is among the dozens that could have potentially caught fire Tuesday when someone alertly reported the burning grass at Brazil Drive and Viera Avenue.

It’s the second fire in the same area within a week.

“It’s never bothered us before. I’ve been here for like 10 years, and homeless people have lived here off an on, and the fires have only started kind of recently,” Stolper said. “We’ve never had a problem before.”

Fortunately, this time, no homes were damaged and no injuries were reported, but that might not be the case on the next fire.

“Every one of these fires across the county is started by human means,” said Steve Hill with the Contra Costa Fire Protection District. 

Not all of the fires are related to the homeless population, but a lot are, says Steve Hill, with the fire protection district.

Only a quarter of an acre burned in the recent Antioch fire, but that’s only because the fire protection district got to it quickly.

The day before, a fire started at a homeless encampment behind Hillview Junior High in Pittsburg.

Hill says his crews have battled about the same amount of fires this fire season, compared to last year.

He added though that this year, the season started later and there’s more fuel to burn because of the winter rains.

“Every one of these grass fires is an opportunity for it to get away from us, and to turn into that bigger disastrous fire that none of us wants to have,” Hill said. 

Contra Costa Health Services says the county’s homeless population has increased 43 percent in the past two years and space is still available at shelters for individuals and families.

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