Your right to challenge clearance projects may be taken away
UPDATE: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED TO APRIL 8
By Miriam Raftery
Updated March 28, 2013 (San Diego's East County)--The California Board of Forestry and CalFire has released a proposal to target about 38 million acres (1/3rd of the entire state) to be burned, chewed-up, or sprayed with herbicides. This increases its habitat clearance program five times over current levels in what the California Chaparral Institute (CCI) calls a “major threat” to wildlife.
Robert S. Taylor Jr., a fire specialist with the National Park Service, has also blasted the proposal as a “very poor use of public funds” that would cause irreversible environmental damage. “I strongly recommend that Cal Fire withdraw the current proposal and produce a new one based on best available science," he wrote. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has also criticized the plan.
March 22, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Today the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed closure of 149 air traffic control towers due to sequestration cuts that are mandated due to Congress failing to agree on how to balance the federal budget. That includes towers at Ramona Airport in East County and Brown Field in Otay Mesa, both slated to shut down starting April 7.
Closure of the Ramona facility had sparked widespread protests from local officials and the public, who had urged the FAA to keep the tower open to assure protection of firefighters at the backcountry airport.
Closed-door meeting with county fire officials reported by residents violated Brown Act, legal experts advise ECM
By Nadin Abbott and Miriam Raftery
March 19, 2013 (Julian)—At a March 14 meeting of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire District Board to discuss the possibility of joining the County Fire Authority and dissolving the community’s volunteer fire district due to financial shortfalls in the emergency medical services side of the ledger, Fire Captain James Stowers made a surprise announcement.
March 12, 2013 (San Diego)—Today, Supervisor Dianne Jacob urged citizens in San Diego County to contact the Federal Aviation Adminstration (FAA) at Closurecomments@FAA.GOV and oppose closure of the Ramona Airport’s air traffic control tower, a vital component in fighting wildfires and protecting safety of firefighting crews. Tomorrow at 1 p.m. Pacific Standard Time is the deadline for comments.
The Board learned that the Federal Aviation Administration has targeted the Ramona Air Traffic Control Tower for closure as as early as April 7. This means, according to Cal Fire Battalion Chief Ray Cheney, that the airport would revert back to an “uncontrolled airport, where pilots have to avoid each other and announce their intentions.”
This was the way it was back on June 21, 1995 when there was a midair collision between a United States Forest Service Beechcraft and an NTSB air tanker, leading to the deaths of the air tanker crew. An open space, instead of a controlled space, will increase the risk of mid-air collisions, since a “controlled airport controls the air traffic sequencing.”
March 12, 2013 (Ramona)--Vice-Chairwoman Dianne Jacob and Supervisor Ron Roberts will join disaster response experts at the Ramona Air Field today to urge the federal government to recognize that the Ramona Air Traffic Control Tower is a critical asset during county disasters, especially fires.
The Cal Fire Air Attack Base at the Ramona Air Field responds to an average of 450 calls per year and protects more than 1.7 million acres, including U.S. Forest Service land. The base played a key role in fighting the 2003 and 2007 wildfires. The county, along with Cal Fire, has made significant technology investments and upgrades to aircraft that fly from Ramona.
In response to sequestration, the Federal Aviation Administration is proposing to close air traffic control towers deemed not crucial to the national interest. The County has learned that the Ramona Airport ATCT, operated under a FAA contract with Serco Inc., is targeted for closure.
March 10, 2013 (Julian)—Why is the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District in financial trouble—and why would the District refuse to join the County Fire Authority? Is there a way for the cash-strapped District to retain its independence and assure a swift response time for residents?
These are important questions. The answers reveal a distrust shared by other rural fire departments that have reported longer response times and other concerns after giving up volunteer firefighters to join the County system.
March 4, 2013 (Julian) – Julian’s all-volunteer fire department, faced with a budget crunch, is weighing a proposal to turn over firefighting responsibilities to the County Fire Authority. But some residents are voicing fears that they could wind up burned.
Dozens of firefighters and property owners packed into the Julian Town Hall Thursday night. Many expressed concerns that out-of-town firefighters would not be familiar with rural areas and may not find homes in a firestorm. Relying on firefighters far away would also mean longer response times to fight fires in this historic mountain community.
March 4, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- Hundreds of firefighters across the County will take to the streets on March 12 for the annual "Fill the Boot for the Burn Institute" effort. Firefights will collect cash donations at major intersections during morning and afternoon commutes. The effort is organized by the San Diego-Imperial County fire Fighters Advisory Council, the Burn Institute, and the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association.
February 27, 2013 (Palomar) --If you see smoke across San Diego's north inland areas, don't worry. The Cleveland National Forest is conducting burning operations this week on the northeastern side of Palomar Mountain along the Aguanga Ridge/Palomar Divide Road this week. The Forest Service is burning fuels that have been piled as a result of fuel treatments in the area.
“On its face…it appears that the DEIS [Draft Environmental Impact Statement] fails to include any legally enforceable Public Health and Safety mitigation measures….A failure to mandate even minimal fire protection standards or a protection plan will not only endanger workers on-site, it represents a potential fire threat to the surrounding communities.”
– Cynthia L. Eldred, attorney for the San Diego Rural Fire Protection District
By Miriam Raftery
February 26, 2013 (Campo) – An attorney representing the San Diego Rural Fire Protection District has sent repeated letters to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) taking the agency to task for ignoring health, safety and fire concerns in its consideration of the Shu’luuk Wind project. In a February 25, 2013 comment submitted to the BIA, the district further accuses the BIA of violating federal law and failing to require mitigation of serious problems for the proposed project on the Campo Indian reservation.
February 24, 2013 (Descanso)--If a disastrous event overwhelms or delays the community’s professional response, Community Emergency Response Tea.m. (CERT) members can assist others by applying the basic response and organizational skills that they learned during training. These skills can help save and sustain lives following a disaster until professional help arrives.
The CERT training will be held in Descanso at the Town Hall on March 8-9 and March 14-16. The classes themselves are free.
February 19, 2013 (San Diego's East County) --Cleveland National Forest is conducting burning operations today in the San Vicente area in East County and on Palomar Mountain near Observatory Campground. This is a continuation of burning operations that began yesterday, but are not expected to continue into tomorrow due to the weather system that may bring rain and that is moving into southern California.
The Forest Service is burning fuels that have been piled as a result of hand and mechanical fuel treatments in the area.
January 26, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Cal Fire’s San Diego unit welcomed 66 new members to its ranks in a special badge pinning ceremony this morning at Cal Fire’s facilities on Jamacha Road in El Cajon. The new Cal Fire members are firefighters from the San Miguel Fire Protection District, which entered into a cooperative agreement with Cal Fire starting December 31, 2012.
“The transition creates a new generation of cooperation, through a reduction of redundant staff positions while maintaining firefighter staffing at all 8 Fire Stations,” a press release issued by San Miguel Fire District states.
January 18, 2013 (Lakeside) – The Fire Safe Council of San Diego County is sponsoring a free Defensible Space Workshop on January 26 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lakeside Community Center, Moreno Room, 9841 Vine St., Lakeside. Learn how to make your home fire safe and prepare for the 2013 fire season.
January 22, 2013 (El Cajon)--CAL FIRE/San Diego will be burning approximately 100 acres in the Corte Madera Ranch area near the community of Pine Valley. The burn will take place tomorrow 1/23/2013 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. as part of a Vegetation Management Program. Smoke will be visible in many parts of East County.
January 9, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – The Palomar Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest will conduct prescribed burning from January 15, 2013 through June 30, 2013 when weather and fuel moisture conditions permit. This vegetation removal is for the purpose of hazardous fuels reduction, community defense zone maintenance and forest health. The prescribed burning will take place at various locations on the District including Palomar Mountain, Ramona, San Diego Country Estates, Sunshine Summit and Aguanga. The projects will cover approximately 700 acres. Some drifting smoke may be visible during the period of burning.
Residents and other public may call Battalion Chief Tim Gray at 619-902-1414 for more information.
December 20, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – in a unanimous decision, the California Public Uitlities Commission (CPUC) denied San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern Califiornia Gas Company’s proposed Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA). SDG&E had sought to charge ratepayers for its uninsured liability costs for wildfires caused by the utility’s lines, both for future fires and the 2007 firestorms that ravaged San Diego County. Click here for the formal decision.
“This is a huge win for San Diego County residents -- and for common sense,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “SDG&E’s proposal to charge ratepayers for fires the utility largely helped cause would have been a grave injustice to ratepayers and victims of the 2007 firestorms. Sempra Energy and SDG&E continue to make healthy profits and last year dished out hefty bonuses to their top executives,” she added. “The idea that SDG&E cannot afford these costs is nonsense – and I’m glad state regulators appeared to see it the same way.”
December 20, 2012 (San Diego) – Effective Tuesday morning at 6:00 am, December 18, 2012, fire restrictions on the Cleveland National Forest were reduced to the “General Level.” The recent rain and cooler temperatures have lessened likelihood that small fires will become larger fires.
“While the height of our fire season may be coming to an end, we urge that people stay vigilant to prevent wildfires,” said Carlton Joseph, Fire Chief for the Cleveland National Forest. “Our fire season in southern California is year round, and we remain ready to respond to these emergency situations.”
December 19, 2012 (San Diego) – Why did the California Public Utilities Commission fail to notify parties that it plans to hear a drastically revised alternate decision at tomorrow’s meeting on SDG&E’s proposed Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA)?
The new version, written by Commissioner Timothy Simon, would allow SDG&E to charge ratepayers not only for certain uninsured costs of future wildfires caused by its lines, but also appears to now include the 2007 wildfires as well—a shift that has outraged fire survivors. (See pages 23 and 28 at link above.) The draft contains numerous other changes from an earlier alternate decision penned by Simon, as well as a separate alternate decision penned previously by Commissioner Maribeth Bushey, as ECM reported earlier.
Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, representing fire victim Ruth Henricks, sent an e-mail tonight to the CPUC objecting to any discussion or consideration of the new alternative decision on grounds that it violates the Brown Act due to failure to give proper notice, as well as collective concurrence outside a properly noticed meeting. He also alleges violation of due process.
December 13, 2012 (San Diego's East County--The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) , after working with the San Diego County Fire Authority along with several other agencies, today announced that residents within County Service Area (CSA) 135 are eligible for the $35.00 reduction on the State’s Fire Prevention Fee.
“CSA 135 includes all unincorporated areas of East County including the backcountry,” Captain Mike Mohler, public information officer at Cal Fire, told East County Magazine. The new Fee, which is being assessed on all habitable structures within the State Responsibility Area, is set at $150, but has a $35 reduction when the home is within a local fire protection agency.
December 6, 2012 (San Diego's East County)--County Supervisor Dianne Jacob is again asking the California Public Utilities Commission to reject an attempt by San Diego Gas & Electric to bill its customers for the uninsured cost of the region’s 2007 wildfires and any future wildfire caused by the utility.
“I remain outraged at SDG&E’s incessant attempt to slap ratepayers with a massive invoice for the 2007 wildfires that scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in rural San Diego County,” Jacob wrote today in a letter to CPUC President Michael Peevey. “The notion that SDG&E cannot afford the costs of these fires is nonsense.”
November 29, 2012 (San Diego)--Today lawyers representing residents burned out by the 2007 Witch Creek, Rice and Guejito wildfires and attorneys for defendant San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) came before Superior Court Judge Richard E. L. Strauss in San Diego Superior Court to plead for victims who don't wish to settle to be given a trial date.
This is one of the most complex tort cases in recent San Diego history. It stemmed from the Witch Creek fire, which burned 197,990 acres and destroyed 1,124 homes. Although the California Public Utilities Commission has found that SDG&E lines caused these fires, many wildfire victims have yet to receive a penny in compensation five years after their homes and lives were destroyed. Some remain in trailers or other temporary housing five years after the fires.
November 26, 2012 (Jacumba) – Kiwanis Clubs in Campo and Crest have joined forces to assist a family with a two-year-old child. The family, who lost their home in the Shockey Fire, has been living in a temporary arrangement but was able to purchase a fifth-wheel trailer thanks to community donations.
More funds are needed, however, since the trailer needs “much repairs and appliances” before the family can call it home this winter in an area tha receives snow, says Lorrie Ostrander of Jacumba, who has been coordinating relief efforts for the fire victims.
November 25, 2012 (El Cajon ) - A brush fire is burning along Interstate 8 west at East Main Street in El Cajon. The fire is burning uphill in medium fuel. CHP shut down the freeway briefly but one lane is now reopened.
Further east, a car fire on I-8 east near Jacumba is also impacting traffic.
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The California Public Utilities Commission has announced that its November 29 meeting agenda in San Francisco will include SDG&E’s proposed Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA), the utility’s proposal to charge ratepayers for uninsured costs of wildfires.
But the Mussey Grade Road Alliance, a Ramona citizens group, has filed a request asking the commission to move the meeting to San Diego.
November 20, 2012 (Jacumba)--Cal-Fire will conduct a burn tomorrow, November 21 in McCain Valley near the community of Jacumba. The burn will be approximately 35 acres and smoke will be visible off Interstate 8 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
November 19, 2012 (Jamul) -- –Cal Fire resources will be conducting a small prescribed burn in the Rancho Jamul area near the community of Jamul. This burn is scheduled to take place tomorrow, November 20, between 8 a.m. and lasting until 4:00 p.m.
Cal Fire plans to burn approximately 80 acres. Smoke will be visible along highway 94 and other East County areas.
November 14, 2012 (Cuyamaca) -- Due to a change in weather, this week’s controlled burn planned for McCain Valley was cancelled. Instead, Cal-Fire will hold a prescribed burn on Wednesday, November 15 in the Middle Peak area off Highway 79 and Mild Ranch Road in the Cuyamaca area. Smoke will be visible from the Julian and surrounding areas, Mike Mohler at Cal-Fire advises.
November 10, 2012 (Jacumba/Boulevard) – Lorrie Ostrander, who has been coordinating efforts to help families who lost homes in the Shockey Fire, has sent the following letter thanking ECM readers for your generosity. While many needs have been met, some remain. Please read her letter below, and help if you can.
November 6, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)--CAL FIRE/San Diego County Fire Authority in cooperation with State Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service resources will conduct a prescribed burn in the area of the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve in East county near the community of Jamul. This burn is scheduled to take place during daylight hours on November 6.