Tolleson Brush Fire

“We all hear the warnings about dry brush and fires and yet no one in the city has taken action to remove the fire hazard. So, what happened? We ended up with a fire."

A group of Tolleson residents says the city is responsible for not cleaning up dry brush that caught on fire near their neighborhood on the Fourth of July.

Juanita Garcia and Tina Gamez, who live in the Tolsun Farms community, raised complaints about the brush fire at a recent Tolleson City Council meeting.

Garcia, who said the fire started on a lot on the northeast corner of 91st Avenue and Van Buren Street, recalled when a neighbor knocked on her door on the night of the incident.

“She said, ‘Get out there with your hose because the backyard is on fire.’ When I got out there, we grabbed two of our hoses, and we started pouring water because we saw (fire) coming from 91st down towards our home,” Garcia said. “It was burning pretty fast. All the neighbors were out there with their hoses.”

According to public records, the fire’s heat source was fireworks, and the cause of ignition was unintentional.

“Many of us had family and friends over to enjoy the holiday at our homes. Even though we personally didn’t have any sparklers or fireworks, many people did…our neighbor two houses over was using sparklers when I suddenly saw a fire that could have been possibly started by sparklers flying over,” Gamez said. “As soon as I saw the fire, I immediately called 9-1-1 and explained the situation.”

While Gamez described how “it felt like forever,” she estimated it took firefighters about 10 minutes to arrive at the scene.

“My neighbors were saying 15 to 20 minutes. Everybody thought it was longer than it actually was. I told them, ‘I think it just felt long.’ This fire was up against the walls, and people were out there with their hoses. In a situation like that, I think it feels like it’s longer than it actually is,” Gamez told the West Valley View by phone.

Tolleson Fire Department Chief George Good told the West Valley View the response time for a fire truck from the city of Glendale — Unit E158 — was “slightly less than 8 minutes.”

Good added, “Our unit that carries water was already on a call, and other units, which would’ve been dispatched normally when our engine is on a call, were also on call. There are several other units that are closer — that are in Phoenix and in Avondale — that would have normally been dispatched to that location, but as they were on a call, then Engine 158 from Glendale responded.”

When brush is ignited, fire can spread onto structures and areas with more brush, creating a larger fire, Good said.

“It’s important that people do try to keep their areas, and I’m speaking in general terms, but that they try to keep any pathway for fire to spread to their homes clear.

“Anything that’s within 30 feet of your home which could burn and then get to your home, you want to make sure that is removed in order to help reduce the possibility of a brush fire spreading to the house or structure from a source,” Good explained.

Gamez told Tolleson city councilmembers, “We all hear the warnings about dry brush and fires and yet no one in the city has taken action to remove the fire hazard. So, what happened? We ended up with a fire. The potential for a fire would have been greatly diminished if the property was free of dried brush.

“City employees and officials on all levels drive on Van Buren or 91st Avenue every single day, and no one, absolutely no one, has managed to say, ‘Why don’t we clean that up?’ It looks terrible and it is a fire hazard. There is no good reason for everyone to have gone through such distress because of the city’s negligence in cleaning up their property,” Gamez said.

Good said he is working directly with Tolleson’s Field Operations Department to mitigate fire hazards — like brush.

“The director and I of that department will be traveling throughout the city seeking to identify areas that could be hazardous and then take action based on what we find; reduce any incidents of this nature,” he said.