On September 16th, a vegetation fire near the I-580 freeway in Oakland raged for about four hours. It is unknown how the fire started but it is suspected to have originated from a nearby homeless encampment. The fire broke out at around two p.m around Quigley Avenue, near a Farmer Joe’s market and a gas station. It started in the stretch between the freeway and the residential houses. It quickly spread to over a half-mile. As the fire continued to grow, it started to get dangerously close to houses. This is when the fire department called a third alarm. Soon after, two houses on Quigley Street started burning, which also caused minor spot fires in close proximity. As it continued to spread from house to house, a fourth alarm was called, causing a power outage to neighborhoods nearby. At least eighty firefighters were called in and one eventually had to receive medical aid due to heat-related injuries. One woman told local news station KPIX 5 that her daughter called her to warn her about the fire. “I immediately got my things and drove here from Pleasanton. It was a very difficult drive.” She said that when she got there her home was mostly unaffected, but her neighbors were not so lucky. Fifteen homes were damaged and four were completely burned.
This area is not new to fire. In October of 2020, there was a smaller fire that fortunately did not reach any houses. In recent years, there has been an increase in fires around Oakland. Between spring of 2021 and spring of 2022, there were over ninety fires of varying severity in Oakland. There fires are most commonly spread from homeless encampments, which often lack the necessary precautions and proper techniques to handle fires. These fires typically start under freeway bridges and railroad tracks and grow from there. “[Fire] is a safety issue for the unsheltered and as we saw today, it has a high risk for anyone living in the area,” said Oakland Fire Chief Nick Luby. In an effort to end this trend, the fire department recently created a resource called “Encampment Management.” They visit homeless individuals in encampments, showing them how to create safe fires and educating them on fire safety. They also go around encampments on red flag days – days where fire risk is extremely high – to make sure that everything is handled properly. Despite Oakland’s increased fire risk, concerned citizens find hope as our fire department shows that they are ready to tackle the problem.