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East Bay Fire Districts Propose Critical 14-Mile Fire-Break To Protect 500K+ Residents

ORINDA (KPIX 5) -- There's a new plan to protect some of the hillside communities in the East Bay from future wildfires.

Emergency managers with the Moraga Orinda and Contra Costa Fire Protection Districts want to create a fire-break on the north side of Highway 24.

According to Dennis Rein, Moraga Orinda Fire's Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, the fire-break would stretch from San Pablo Dam Road and move east across Inspiration Point, then parallel Highway 24 to the north before ending near Pleasant Hill Road in Lafayette.

"We're trying to protect residential areas from a large 'mega fire,' if you will, coming out of the north being blown by those high winds into residential areas," said Rein.

The Fire Protection Districts submitted the proposal for the 14-mile-long, 200-to-500-foot-wide fire-break to CalFire.

It was ranked number 9 out of 35 critical fire prevention projects statewide. All of the projects involve clearing brush and vegetation in high fire danger areas.

All of the plans require approval for state funding before they can start. If the plan is approved for the Lamorinda area, the fire-break would protect 30 East Bay communities and more than half a million people.

"Everybody thinks that, 'Oh, well that will never happen here,' but now that we've had some bad history of fires here in California, people are starting to look at the facts that, well, it could happen here," said Rein.

"It's dangerous. I know it is. I always wonder when is it our time, and hopefully never," said Maite Gallagher, who has lived in Orinda for more than 16 years.

Residents in these hillside towns said they see similarities to the community of Paradise--the Northern California city was devastated last year by the fast moving Camp Fire, which killed 85 people. Both communities have an older population living in a heavily forested area with limited evacuation routes.


"In this area, there's really only two roads in and out: Moraga Road and Moraga Way. It backs up a lot, so if there's something real serious, it would be tough to get through it," said David Dickstein, who has lived in Orinda for 10 years.

"No one wants to cut down trees. It's beautiful to live around here, but I think it's a necessity if we want to try to prevent those disasters, like what happened to those poor folks up in Paradise. That could happen elsewhere in California," said resident Joel Compton.

The plan for the fire-break does not involve clear cutting trees. Emergency managers want to remove any dead trees, trim the lower branches of remaining trees and clear all the brush and undergrowth from the fire-break area.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District and the East Bay Regional Parks own the majority of the land for the proposed fire-break. The idea calls for using the National Guard or even inmate fire crews to do the necessary work.

The preliminary estimates put the cost of the fire-break between $2-5 million. Emergency managers hope to get the funding approved within the next few months so the project can start before the summer fire season.

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