By Miriam Raftery
February 26, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – Readers across East County have sent photos and video of a large controlled burn yesterday in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park, voicing outrage over the burning of habitat including mature trees, given than 99% of the pine trees in the park burned during the 2003 Cedar Fire.
Questions have also been raised over why the burn was allowed in windy conditions, why a helicopters was dispatched to use water from Lake Cuyamaca on a controlled burn, and why more notice was not provided to the public and the press that a major controlled burn was underway by State Parks in conjunction with Cal Fire.
A second controlled burn was also occurring at Wooded Hill in Cleveland National Forest near Mt. Laguna under the direction of the U.S. Forest Service.
What appeared to be two headers on a large fire sent large plumes of smoke across much of East County, prompting many panicked calls and e-mails to media as well as rumors that the burn had jumped out of control—a fear for area residents after last year’s San Felipe fire scorched nearly 2,800 acres after a Cal Fire controlled burn escaped containment lines.
Cal Fire spokesman Kendall Bortisser confirmed to ECM, “It did not get out of control.” He added that the plan was to burn 97 acres and that as of late yesterday, the burn was 80 percent completed. He said such burns are scheduled far in advance and indicated that he sent a Tweet out yesterday morning.
Asked about reports and photos of mature trees including pines burning, he referred us to the California State Parks service. A call to Terry Gerson has not yet been returned, however ECM will publish a follow up once a response is received.
Rumors of an out of control burn began circulating after a Ramona newspaper published a post headlined “Cal Fire Reports `Escaped Burn.’ A correction was later published indicated Cal Fire staetd that “minor” spots in grasses outside the control lines had occurred but had been halted. Scanner traffic and posts on a wildland firefighter blog also indicated heavy resources had been dispatched including aerial support and that the burn had jumped containment lines, adding to the confusion.
Even if the burn stayed essentially within containment lines, however, there are still serious questions raised over the choice of location(s) and timing, sparking outrage among many ECM readers.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is being helped along by torching anything that has survived the drought and the previous fires,” wrote Bob Chaplin in an e- mail to ECM. “I am a Julian resident who cannot understand why chipping cannot take place rather than torching.”
Chaplin voiced concern for loss of habitat for ground nesting birds, lizards, insects, and milkweed for Monarch butterflies, potentially, with so many large controlled burns in our region. “Is Cal Fire not aware of the severe condition the native birds are finding now with no plant bloom or insects? They need to talk to some of the folks at the San Diego Natural History Museum,” Chaplin suggested. “It is very sad to see this policy of burning all things…In a few more years, it will all be dust with no native ground cover, no native plants, bees or animals. Without water nothing will grow back.”
He also voiced concerns over the low level of water at Cuyamaca, a fact that photos published last week in ECM confirm. Yet a State Parks representative informed ECM reporter Nadin Abbott yesterday during the burn that helicopter service was activated at Lake Cuyamaca and would be used to put the fire out.
Jean Kaiwi voiced outrage over the burn in her e-mail to ECM and also leveled criticism against Cal Fire’s stepped-up policy of burning vast tracts of public lands.
“Cal Fire is a reckless and backward looking agency,” she werote. “It breaks my heart that they can get anywhere near Cuyamaca.”
Craig Maxwell, a former La Mesa mayoral candidate and owner of Maxwell’s House of Books, is an avid hiker who was in Cuyamaca when the burn occurred. “If I’d been any closer, the hair on my arms would’ve burned,” wrote Maxwell, who sent disturbing photos showing the forest burning.
While some images showed a ghost forest of trees dead from past fires, others showed what appeared to be young, healthy pine trees amid the flames. He also reports 15 foot high saplings planted after the Cedar Fire were destroyed in this burn. (See photo, top of story)
“Many of the trees burning were mature oaks, pines and cedars that had survived the Cedar fire,” said Maxwell, who indicated he aims to file public records requests to get more details on the burn.
A representative from a local tribe sent photos showing a large header of smoke. The individual, who asked not to be named, wanted to know who ordered a burn before winter rains, amid a drought. He was also angered at the lack of adequate advance notification to the public, tribes, and media.
View timelapse animation from 09:00-12:00: http://hpwren.ucsd.edu/anim-a4/ml-w-mobo-c/TODAY-Q4.ogv
Animation from 12:00-3:00: http://hpwren.ucsd.edu/anim-a4/ml-w-mobo-c/TODAY-Q5.ogv
Julie Salmon also has questions she wants answered. “It is beyond me why they would do such a big burn and not warn people,” she told ECM, “and why they would be doing it with all our drought issues right now, and why the hell don’t they have some system in place where we can look to see info on whether smoke is a control burn or not.”
East County Magazine has asked the State Parks Service to inform us next time it plans a controlled burn so that we can notify subscribers to our Viejas Wildfire & Alerts. We have also asked Cal Fire to provide earlier advance notice of future burns.
Several readers said they observed gusty winds and wanted to know why the burn wasn’t cancelled. Salmons said she had a similar concern on February 20, an announced permissible burn day above 3000 feet. “I am at 3600 feet and this is how it was blowing outside ALL day,” she said of a video she forwarded to ECM. “I heard on the scanner on the morning report that it was a permissible burn day. I went out and did a little video of the wind blowing my trees and churning my windmill just in case some yahoo started a fire. What are they thinking lately?”