Equity in firefighting? Fresno lawmaker wants test fires to probe response times.

As Fresno’s Fire Department sought its share of budget funds, one south Fresno lawmaker wanted to ensure response times were even across the city.

Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias unveiled plans to start a fire on a street in northeast Fresno to ensure the Fire Department is handling calls to put out open fires equitably throughout different parts of the city. 

Arias told Fire Chief Billy Alcorn during Wednesday’s Fire Department budget hearing to be ready for his call sometime. 


The backstory: Fresno city code only allows open fires that are permitted or used for cooking, and any fires that are not fueled by clean wood are not allowed. 

  • But the city has had an issue with warming fires that the homeless start, leading Arias to propose an ordinance earlier this year that he eventually pulled to crack down on them. 
  • McClatchy reported that the Fire Department responded to nearly 3,800 homeless warming fires last year and over 4,000 in 2022. 
  • Arias previously said that the Fire Department’s practice has been to let fires burn if they do not threaten structures or will not spread, but after bringing the matter to the forefront, the city is only allowing fires that are permitted or being used for cooking, per the city code. 

The big picture: Arias voiced his displeasure with open fires burning throughout his district on Wednesday, saying he was recently sent a photo of a bonfire burning when it was 95 degrees outside, and he has had to explain to his constituents why open fires in District 3 are not being put out. 

What they’re saying: “Simple question – I can pick any sidewalk in northeast Fresno, start a fire with clean wood,” Arias said to Alcorn. “When the folks call the fire department, the fire department, would they put it out or not put it out? Because I’m going to test this exercise, to be very frank. I might be charged by the DA with arson.” 

  • City Manager Georgeanne White said the Fire Department will respond to an open fire in any part of the city equally. 
  • “In full disclosure, I’m telling you right now with all your captains and the administration, I’m going to put this to a test,” Arias said. “I’m going to find clean wood, a sidewalk in northeast Fresno and set a fire. And when all the firetrucks come out, and whatever action they take, I’m going to judge that to what’s happening on Santa Clara Street, G Street, Chinatown, and downtown and Tower District on a daily basis. I want to be fully transparent with everyone. I’m going to put it to a test, because as a resident of Fresno, I do this with police. I call 911 constantly to report a break-in, to report a fire, and they treat me like anyone else and they respond. So I’m now going to test out the apparatus of the fire system to be applied equitably across the city.” 
  • Councilman Tyler Maxwell jumped in with a joke, “Please do it in Garry’s [Bredefeld] district, not mine.” 
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