FAIRFIELD — Barely 24 hours after one of the biggest fires in city history tore through a north Fairfield neighborhood, the Fairfield Fire Department was still on scene, dousing hotspots and making sure the blaze was, in fact, out.
The post-incident assessment will happen later, said fire chief Tony Velasquez, who spent a good chunk of Wednesday at the scene setting up the city’s disaster recovery team.
After the blaze, though, Marigold Drive residents were left with a lot of questions and few answers.
Some expressed frustration and outright anger about which homes were allowed to burn and which ones were saved.
“A lot of it is just a matter of the resources that we have available,” Velasquez said. “If we have enough resources, we can assign one to each structure. Our No. 1 priority is to get out ahead of it. Get to the head of the fire where it’s burning the hottest, and burning the fastest.”
With limited resources on scene in the early moments of Tuesday’s fire, the senior officer on scene had to make the call to prevent the fire from advancing farther east toward North Texas Street.
The blaze broke out on the eastbound side of Interstate 80. Afternoon winds blew it east through dried brush and backyards all the way to the back of the Summit Apartments on the corner of North Texas Street and Marigold Drive and north into an AT&T storage yard.
It destroyed five homes and damaged at least 10 others.
“When you have limited resources, you have to get out in front of it,” Velasquez said. “You want to identify what’s savable based on the rate of spread, the wind.”
The types of vegetation in the burned area also complicated the firefighting efforts at first, he said.
“We had a lot of materials, vegetation, trees a lot of material that could burn,” the chief said. “A lot of wood structures. Because of that and some of those trees, fences how old they were, they ignite and they go up pretty quick.”
The speed with which the fire spread prompted the first commander on scene to quickly upgrade the fire from one to four alarms. It eventually went to seven alarms.
“Our first response unit responded to the interstate,” Velasquez said. “As soon as we had them on scene, we knew we had a problem with the fire spreading rapidly toward the houses. The rest of the resources were immediately dispatched to Marigold to try to protect structures.”
Then the call for outside help went out.
“We had two types of fires: vegetation and now we’re talking about a whole different type of fire, structure fires,” Velasquez said. “We knew where this could potentially go.”
Increasing the alarm levels summons more crews to the scene.
Velasquez was highly complimentary of the cooperation his department got from the nearly 200 firefighters coming in from neighboring cities and counties.
Trucks and crews came from Travis Air Force Base, Suisun City, Vacaville, Benicia, Vallejo, Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento as well as a host of rural fire districts and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The department is always ready for something like the Marigold Drive fire, Velasquez said.
“I definitely feel we train for this,” he said. “You can’t expect us to always staff for this. We have to rely on mutual aid. . . . These are rare occurrences.”
Residents can certainly take precautions, the chief said.
“Definitely take care of their yards,” he said. “Thinking about the grasses in their yards, being proactive to keeping their yards kept up.”
Keeping gutters clear and trimming back trees away from rooflines will also help minimize fire danger.
Asked whether the Fire Department could have done anything better or differently, Velasquez said the time for self-evaluation will come.
“I think right now we’re still trying to do the after responsibilities,” he said. ”We are still out there on scene. We still have firefighters putting out little hot spots.
“We’re not there yet as far as doing an actual after-action review. We’re still heavily involved in the actual incident still.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.