Firefighter shortage poses problem as number of Fresno fires continues to rise

Fresno fires are up 50% compared to this time last year. With the hottest months still ahead, that percentage is expected to rise.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fires in Fresno are up 50% compared to this time last year, and with the hottest months still ahead, officials say that percentage is expected to rise.

Firefighters are expecting 2021 to be a record-breaking year.

Crews have already put out 2,500 fires this year. That's nearly half of last year's total in just over four months.

"Pretty incredible pace we are on. Most of the veteran firefighters in the department with 20 to 25 years on the job said they have never seen it like this," said Shane Brown with the Fresno Fire Department.

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In just the first nine days of May, crews have already responded to nearly 200 fire calls.

"The numbers we are seeing now are completely unprecedented," Brown said.

Brown says homeless-involved fires are up 100% from 2020. Vegetation fires are also on the rise, with an increase of 128% year over year.

"Seeing these red flag warnings this early in the season, that is something that for several years has not happened," Brown said.

Last week, crews battled three large fires within 24 hours. Two of them were inside businesses.

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The third was at an apartment complex in downtown Fresno. That fire tore through Marc Mata's home.

He and his 9-year-old son Jateo lost nearly everything.

"I got out of there with maybe two boxes of things and two bags, and the rest is just under rubble basically," Marta said.

Brown says they need more firefighters to meet the city's increased demand. He says staffing shortages have plagued the fire department for years.

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"Every area of the department needs to grow. Our investigators are incredibly overworked. We have six fire investigators," he said.

Brown says the fire department applied for a grant that could help employ dozens of additional firefighters.

He hopes it will be approved by the end of this month.

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