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Davis, California

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Woodland building goes up in flames on Picnic Day

Davis residents and businesses were not the only ones to feel the repercussions of this year’s Picnic Day. In the neighboring city of Woodland, an industrial building caught fire and was consumed at night on April 17.

The Woodland Fire Department rushed to the scene around 10:30 p.m. at which time they called the Davis Fire Department for back-up. However, due to the multitude of phone calls the Davis department was receiving, Davis was unable to provide support in Woodland for the burning building. The Woodland Fire Department was forced to seek aid from other cities.

The added distance meant an increase to a 10-minute lag time before the Willow Oak and West Sacramento fire departments could reach the scene. Tod Reddish, chief of the Woodland Fire Department, attributed the extra waiting period to the inability of the firefighters to save the incinerated building.

The fire reportedly caused an estimated $108,000 in damages and almost cost Melvyn James his life. Upon entering the building, firefighters heard the trapped 72-year-old man and safely removed him from the engulfed wreckage. He was then taken to the UC Davis Medical Center to be treated for smoke inhalation.

“This is the first occurrence I know of that we’ve requested additional aid and were unable to receive the assistance due to the calls [the Davis Fire Department] was receiving [from Picnic Day],” said Woodland Fire Department Battalion Chief Rick Sander.

Davis Police Chief Landy Black said there was a good reason for the fire and police departments’ incapacity to help Woodland. At the Davis City Council meeting on April 27, Black and Davis Fire Chief Bill Weisgerber spoke about the record number of calls the departments received over Picnic Day weekend.

The police department tracked the emergency calls for service that came in beginning at 6 p.m. Friday evening and ending at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. During this time period, the department received roughly two calls every minute. Around 700 calls came into the department and 516 calls were responded to, Black said.

The majority of the arrests – 62 percent – took place downtown, with three fourths of the perpetrators within the 15 to 25-year-old age group. Black made sure to state the bulk of those arrested were not from Davis. The names of those taken into custody were checked against the UC Davis database with only one UC Davis student match.

ASUCD Senator Ozzy Arce said he thinks more officers could have been allocated to Picnic Day than were actually assigned to duty.

“In my opinion, I saw more officers at the [campus fee hike] protests than at Picnic Day,” he said.

The Woodland Police Department sent two officers during the day and two at night to help Davis forces throughout the festivities. Woodland Police Sergeant Anthony Cucchi said unlike a huge fire, which requires a lot of back up, police work tends to receive smaller calls, so the department was able to send their officers to assist at Picnic Day.

Cucchi said although he has yet to attend Picnic Day, he is a staunch opponent to the rumors of terminating the tradition.

“I always hate to shut down a good event because it’s a small percentage of people causing a big problem,” he said. “I’m sure there were good people at Picnic Day having a good time, enjoying it for what it’s for.”

Aside from the police department, the Davis Fire Department had their hands more than full within their own city, which made a trip to Woodland impossible. Weisgerber said that the department experienced three to four times the number of calls they normally receive.

In regards to the upcoming May 10 meeting, which will be held in order to discuss the future of Picnic Day, both Black and Weisgerber said they hope joint contributions by the departments and community will ensure safer festivities.

“This really has to be a shared solution,” Weisgerber said. “There’s no one entity that can solve this on their own.”

KELLEY REES can be reached at city@theaggie.org.


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