NewsCovering Kern County


Riverbed fires present unique set of challenges for fire crews

Posted at 7:43 AM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 10:43:44-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Fire season is back in full force. Bakersfield fire battling fires in the riverbed on a nearly weekly basis. Because of the terrain, these fires present a unique set of challenges, which pulls resources from other emergencies.

“We’ve had roughly over 200 hundred grass fires with a portion of those being riverbed fires," said Bakersfield Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Albertson.

While many crews are out assisting with major wildfires across the state, some are here at home making sure our community is safe.

“Some of them are certainly started by the transients in the riverbed, others are not,” Albertson said.

One of the things that makes these fires so dangerous is that the brush and dry trees in the riverbed can conceal a small spark further in the riverbed. That spark could burn for hours without anyone noticing, surrounded by dry brush.

By the time someone notices the flames and by the time fire crews arrive, they face a whole other set of challenges. The terrain makes it impossible to get their trucks out into the riverbed and the soft sand is hard enough to walk through with having full fire gear and carrying equipment.

“One thing about riverbed fires is there’s not a whole lot of natural ignition sources down there," Albertson said. "Pretty much none. So we know if we have riverbed fire it was probably either an accidental or intentional.”

Unlike a structure fire where fire crews expect a fire hydrant to be nearby, these riverbed fires offer no such convenience. Because there’s no easy access to a water source, fire crews have to shuttle in water in using multiple engines and often time these smaller fires can become bigger problems

“We do well at it, but it does take more equipment and more effort," said Albertson. "Takes more people to deploy hose lines out to those fire and in turn takes more time and more personal.”