Courtesy of April Molina
Firefighters battle brush fire along the Fresno River over the weekend.
Several brush fires burned several acres on both sides of the Fresno riverbed over the weekend, according to CalFire authorities. Four fire engines and multiple crews responded to the most recent fire, which they battled for several hours.
The brush fire is one of six or seven in this area in the last month or two, and is an annual occurence coinciding with the drying out of the thick vegetation lining the riverbed and the cooking or warming fires started by the large number of homeless people trespassing and squatting in the area. The ample rain in the 2018-19 season has created an overgrowth of grass and brush, and has significantly increased the amount of dried fuel available to burn.
Battalion fire chief Jim Forga said the fire Sunday night burned about 6 acres and began about 7 p.m.
“Some have been nearby in the county, but this last one was in the city. This was the Tozer area, just under the bridge and Raymond Road and Cleveland Avenue area. The cause is undetermined right now, but it could also be considered suspicious (intentionally set). Our fire prevention (investigators) are now monitoring the situation.” Forga said.
Officers say the homeless people in the encampments are typically uncooperative with law enforcement and reluctant to report any crimes, or who may be causing the fires even when they know.
Residents living near the riverbed are frustrated and have long been distressed by the crime, violence and drug use they witness, and attribute the fires to the homeless trespassing and squatting in the riverbed area.
Many homes and outbuildings have been threatened in previous years when the brush fires become wind driven, spread embers and burn right up to or into occupied homes and businesses.
“Our goal is to make residents aware of doing their clearances,” Forga said, “to be sure they clear and make that fire break between their property and the riverbed. We’ve tried to get our crews out here to clean it up, make a fuel break between the residences but the (riverbed) area is owned and controlled by multiple (state and county) agencies, so it’s tough to get access.” he said.