By Miriam Raftery
January 1, 2014 (San Diego's East County) -- Governor Jerry Brown granted a Christmas Eve pardon to a firefighter who saved a teenager’s life during the Harris Fire in Potrero after suffering serious burns herself.
Brooke Linman had been convicted of firearms, drug and theft charges almost 20 years ago, but straightened her life out and began working as a firefighter in 2001. In 2007, her Cal-Fire crew was sent to help save homes in Potrero, where they helped evacuate Richard Varshock and his father, Thomas Varshock, who had been trying to defend their home against the firestorm. But the fire engine was overcome and caught fire, forcing them all to race on foot through a wall of flames.
Part II in our "Wind Fire" series
By Miriam Raftery
December 17, 2013 (Campo) – Yesterday’s explosion and brush fire sparked by a Gamesa wind turbine owned by Infigen at the Kumeyaay Wind facility in Campo, California has ignited new questions about the safety of wind turbines in this fire-prone region, where several of the worst wildfires in California history have previously scorched hundreds of thousands of acres.
In June, Infigen settled a lawsuit with Gamesa stemming from an earlier catastrophe at the same wind facility in 2009, when an explosive blast resulted in replacement of all 75 wind turbines, as ECM reported in an exclusive report. But now Boulevard Planning Group Chair Donna Tisdale reveals, “The 75 turbine blades from the 2009 catastrophic failure that you covered are still laying on the ground at the wind farm and are highly flammable.”
By Miriam Raftery and Nadin Abbott
Photos by Jim Pelley, Michael Kurtz, Jim Colby, J. Rummler
December 16, 2013 (Campo) – A wind turbine on a ridge overlooking the Golden Acorn Casino exploded today, sparking several spot fires in surrounding brush that collectively charred about a half an acre.
David Elliott, a Manzanita tribal member, lives about quarter of a mile from the wind facility on the neighboring Campo reservation. At first, he mistook the fire sounds for gusty wind. Then he walked outside and saw the turbine burning. “The turbine did start several spot fires,” he said. “If the wind had been coming from the northwest or west then my home, one of the closets homes to the turbines, would have definitely been in danger because we have brush on this side of the turbines and we would have had a major fire.” Hear audio of his interview with ECM: http://kiwi6.com/file/bk3qywd787
December 14, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – A red flag warning is in effect from noon Saturday through 6 p.m. Sunday due to high fire danger conditions including strong, gusty east/northeast winds, warmer temperatures and low humidity.
Winds of 15 to 30 miles per hour are forecast with gusts up to 65 possible in mountain passes.
By Ariele Johannson
December 9, 2013 (Crest) -- The hilltop town of Crest east of El Cajon was destroyed by the Laguna Fire in 1970, and again in the 2003 Cedar Fire, when over 300 homes were burned to the ground. There are 2,593 souls living in Crest in 967 households. Residents met in the Crest Community Center on November 20 to discuss fire prevention, evacuation concerns, and the state fire fee assessed again this year.
Hot items also on the agendas in Boulevard, Lakeside and Lemon Grove this week
By Miriam Raftery
December 1, 2013 (San Diego's East County)--San Diego Supervisors meet on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 3 and 4 at 9 a.m. The hottest item is a public hearing Tuesday on a county proposal to levy fees to recover the actual cost of services provided by the San Diego County Fire Authority including fire plan reviews, inspections and other technical work. In the past, such services have been provided to individuals and businesses without full cost recovery.
The Agenda does not state how much the proposed fees would be or how much revenue the county expects to raise. But coming on the heels of a statewide fire fee that is going up at year’s end, the proposal is likely to fuel controversy among taxpayers. The item is first on Tuesday’s agenda.
November 16, 2013 (Crest) -- In response to a community request, the San Miguel Fire District’s Board of Directors will hold a special meeting on Novemer 20, 2013 at 5:30 p.m. in the Crest Community Clubhouse, 113 North Park Drive in El Cajon.
East County Magazine's special report on the Cedar Fire, originally aired on KNSJ, is now online. Listen here: http://k007.kiwi6.com/hotlink/pla2tx46jk/ECMShow11-1-13CedarFireSpecial-FINAL.mp3 (It may take a few moments to load, so please be patient).
Our editor, Miriam Raftery, covered the Cedar Fire back in 2003 for several publications and our own publisher, Mark Hanson, lost his home in Lakeside's Wildcat Canyon. Thus we were able to reconnect with a broad network of contacts to create our special report, which includes some never before told stories and interviews with fire survivors, firefighters and elected officials including Cal Fire Captain Mike Mohler, Lakeside resident Mark Hanson, Lakeside Fire Chief Andy Parr, burn survivor Rudy Reyes, Supervisor Dianne Jacob, San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey, Santee Councilman Brian Jones, retired Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Ostrander, Kathy Kassell, cofounder of the Cedar Fire Rebuild Resource Group, and other eyewitness stories from California’s worst wildfire ever.
We conclude with reflections on what’s changed since then, as well as a reading from The Fire Outside My Window by Lindra Millers Younger.
November 9, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – The Descanso Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest will conduct prescribed burning from November 2013 to May 2014, if weather and fuel moisture conditions permit. The project will cover approximately 500-700 acres and will take place near the communities of Mount Laguna, Alpine, and Pine Valley.
The prescribed burns are for the purpose of assisting in providing community protection by slowing the spread of wildfires that occur under normal summer conditions as well as forest health. Some drifting smoke may be visible during the period of burning along Sunrise Highway, Japatul Road, and Interstate 8.
November 1, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- Hear dramatic eyewitness accounts, some never before told, from survivors of the Cedar Fire, firefighters who battled the blaze and saved lives, and elected officials sharing their memories of the worst wildfire in California's history. We've spent weeks compiling these special interviews, reflecting on the past as well as how far we've come -- and what is still needed to keep us safe before the next firestorm strikes.
Our one-hour special report will air today at 5 p.m. on KNSJ 89.1 FM, and again tomorrow at 9 a.m. Please tune in and sharet his information with your friends.
October 31, 2013 (San Diego’s East County)—Cal Fire is preparing for several days of extreme fire weather across many parts of the state, since the National Weather Service has issued five separate “Red Flag Warnings” and “Fire Weather Watches” due to gusty winds and low humidity. Cal Fire has placed additional firefighters on duty to staff extra equipment in the areas affected. ECM has left a message for Cal Fire's media relations department inquiring whether recently closed stations in East County will receive extra staffing and whether any rural fire stations will be closed during these high fire danger days.
By Miriam Raftery
Photos of anniversary event by Pam Wilmers and Miriam Raftery
October 27, 2013 (Lakeside) – “It started as a single flame in rugged, remote backcountry…The perfect alignment of extreme weather, fire weather and circumstances quickly transformed that flame into an enormously powerful and unstoppable force known as the Cedar Fire,” Lakeside firefighter Chuck Palmore said at yesterday’s 10-year anniversary of the Cedar Fire commemoration at the Lakeside Fire Station. The Cedar Fire touched the lives of thousands of people, he noted. “A decade later, we gather together here today to reflect and reconnect, to share with each other our journey that has taken us from victim to survivor to thriver.”
The Cedar Fire remains the worst wildfire in California's history in size (280,278 acres, or 438 square miles), buildings destroyed (2,820, including over 2,200 homes), and people killed(15). Of those who lost homes, most have rebuilt or moved on. But for the families of those who perished, the scars will forever remain.
Molly Sloan lost her daughter, a granddaughter, and her daughter-in-law. She and other family members came to this memorial service to display a photo montage in tribute to their loved ones’ memories.
By Nadin Abbott
Photos by Tom Abbott
October 25, 2013 (San Diego)—Today political leaders from San Diego City and the County came together with fire officials to remember the 2003 Cedar Fire. The press conference served as both a status report on our region’s ability to respond to the next emergency, as well as a memorial for the 15 San Diegans who died during the firestorm.
By Miriam Raftery
September 28, 2013 (Lakeside) – On the tenth anniversary of the Cedar Fire, community leaders and fire survivors will gather to dedicate a historic memorial commemorating the worst wildfire in California history. The ceremony will take place on October 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.at River Park Fire Station #2, 12216 Lakeside Avene in Lakeside, a community that suffered devastating losses when the firestorm trapped people caught unaware of the inferno raging during the fire's first night.
The event will also honor first responders and celebrate fire survivor families’ lifelong connection as guests pause to “reflect, remember and reconnect.” There will be exhibits, disaster prevention program information, book signings by Sandra Younger, author of The Fire Outside My Window, a VFW band, food and beverages, a moment of remembrance, and appreciation of community support.
Speakers will include Supervisor Dianne Jacob, Fire Chief Andy Parr, David Kassel from the Cedar Fire Rebuilding Resource Group, and Fire Chief Andy Parr. Presentations will be made from the offices of Senator Joel Anderson, Assemblyman Brian Jones, and Congressman Duncan Hunter.
Commemoration of the 2003 Cedar Fire ten-year anniversary will take place October 26 from 1-4 pm at the Crest Clubhouse in Crest.
The Crest Community Association is planning to mark the occasion with a commemorative event that will bring the community together to share their experience, thank those who helped Crest get back on its feet, and to learn how to be more prepared for any natural disaster.
October 18, 2013 (El Cajon) – A brush fire east of the El Cajon Boulevard offramp on Interstate 8 in El Cajon burned a half-acre yesterday. Heartland Fire and Rescue crews from El Cajon and La Mesa responded at 11:30 a.m., finding the fire slowly climbing an embankment near the freeway. Crews put the fire out in less than ten minutes. Trolley service was temporarily stopped as a precaution.
The cause of the fire has been listed as undetermined due to numerous possible ignition sources found along the embankment, such as lighters and cigarettes. In addition, there was a large amount of vegetation and numerous homeless encampments in this area.
October 18, 2013 (San Diego's East County ) -- San Miguel Fire District will hold two Open House events on Saturday October 19, 2013 in Spring Valley and El Cajon. The larger event will be at Station 15 in Spring Valley, a smaller event will be at station 18 for Crest and Bostonia Residents. Both events will run from 1 0 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Firefighters will interact with residents, provide station and Apparatus tours and provide tons of Safety information. Station 15 will include the use of a Children’s Fire Safety Trailer, for home safety and evacuation lessons, fire extinguisher training and much more.
The station locations are:
ECM Special Report reveals rural fire stations shut down for weeks, seriously under-staffed in peak fire season
By Miriam Raftery
October 10, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – An East County Magazine special investigation raises some burning issues and reveals that lives are at risk in rural East County areas.
Since the Cedar Fire a decade ago, our County has promised to improve fire protection by consolidating rural fire agencies into a County Fire Authority. But our report exposes glaring deficiencies--and asks some critical questions:
- Could a man who died at De Anza Resort in Jacumba Hot Springs have been saved if the two closest fire stations had not been closed, dramatically delaying emergency response time?
- Why was Boulevard’s fire station shut down for 28 days in August, 30 days in September, and at least the first seven days in October – during peak fire season?
- Why were both Boulevard and Jacumba Hot Springs fire stations unmanned on September 30, when a man found unconscious died after medical help took an hour or more to arrive, according to eyewitness accounts?
- Why haven’t funds promised by SDG&E to mitigate dangers from new energy projects been spent in the communities most at risk?
- Why, even when stations were open, were there only two-man crews which firefighting professionals say is inadequate for structure protection or rescues from a burning building?
- How many other stations across East County may be similarly short-staffed or closed?
Our investigation raises grave concerns about public safety, but so far, officials have not provided any satisfactory answers.
El Cajon's Fire Safety Expo Is October 12
October 6, 2013 (El Cajon) -- It’s all about safety at the annual El Cajon Fire Safety Expo on Saturday, October 12, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at 100 E. Lexington Avenue. This event celebrates Fire Prevention Week and brings to the community a wide variety of safety and health information.
Meet firefighters and police officers from the City of El Cajon and see Police & Fire K-9 demonstrations. Kiwanis Club of East San Diego County will be giving away free kids safety helmets (while supplies last), and Home Depot is back with their children’s safety workshop. See over 40 exhibits addressing important issues such as fire safety, disaster preparedness from the Office of Emergency Services and Heartland Fire & Rescue.
By Miriam Raftery
Photos by Deborah Horger, , Jeff Holz. Rebecca Jefferis Williamson and Imed Fehri and Alexis Parmnnoff
Update October 7, 2013 --SDG&E advises that the suspected cause of the outage is a faulted capacitor station. All power was restored by 1:30 p.m.; the outage began at 10 a.m. affecting 4,501 customers.
October 6, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- An SDG&E sky crane loaded with 2,500 gallons of water helped firefighters halt a brush fire in Lakeside at 28 acres. No structures were lost; mop-up activiites will continue through the night. The blaze began shortly after power went out to more than 4,500 customers for reasons that SDG&E's website indicated were unkown at the time of the outage; power has been fully restored.
Below are our earlier updates on this fire, which began at Aquilla Drive in Lakeside and sent smoke billowing forth that was visible across much of East County as well as Poway and San Diego.
Update 9 p.m. Sam DiGiovanna, our "Chief's Corner" columnist, sent us this report and photo: The fire has scorched 1,000 acres and is 15% contained. Approximately 230 residents were forced to evacuate a housing unit near Lake O'Neil base, officials said. Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton was not threatened by the fire, but a power outage prompted officials to evacuate about 30 patients to other hospitals in the area and stop accepting new patients.
Update 4:20 p.m. - Winds have subsided and SDG&E has restored power to all but two customers in the Descanso/Green Valley area.
By Miriam Raftery
October 5, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) has shut down power to 87 customers. The company’s website states, “An outage has been initiated to protect public safety.” A red flag alert and high wind warning are in effect.
"I remain extremely concerned that shutting off power jeopardizes the safety of communities and the availability of water for residents and firefighters. SDG&E has the statutory authority to cut off power only if there is an imminent threat to public safety," Supervisor Dianne Jacob posted on her Facebook page.
Supervisors to hear proposal Tuesday urging fast transfer of planes for firefighting from Department of Defense to U.S. Forest Service
By Miriam Raftery
October 5, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Shut-down of the federal government over the spending bill impasse has caused furlough of 2,000 California National Guard technicians who maintain helicopters and cargo planes that respond to major wildfires statewide. Major General David Baldwin has said that “lives are at stake” because of these “inane cuts and work stoppages,” the SF Gate reported.
“The federal government needs to grow up, settle its budget mess and remember one of its primary obligations – public safety,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob told East County Magazine. “Any furloughs or other cutbacks that undermine aerial firefighting would be a major concern, especially as our region approaches the most dangerous stretch of the wildfire season.”
On Tuesday, Supervisors will hear a proposal by Supervisors Jacob and Greg Cox asking the U.S. Department of Defense to transfer seven surplus C-27 aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service to bolster firefighting resources in San Diego County and other areas.
October 4, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – SDG&E has notified East County Magazine’s Viejas Alerts that proactive power outages are possible due to high fire danger conditions. A Red Flag Alert is in effect today through Sunday and a high wind watch has also been issued.
Make sure you have flashlights and portable radio with batteries to stay informed during a power outage. This is also a good time to sign up to follow ViejasAlerts at www.twitter.com so you can get text message alerts on your mobile phone. If you have internet access you can also check our website for reports on fires at www.eastcountymagazine.org .
“We expect the highest winds between 4 a.m. and noon Saturday,” Stephanie Donovan, spokesperson for SDG&E, informed ECM. Gusts of 50 to 70 miles an hour are expected in some places.
The utility has made outbound calls to 5600 customers warning of possible power shut-offs in the following areas: Descanso, Mt Laguna, Viejas, Barrett Lake, East Jamul, Potrero, East Ramona, San Diego Country Estates, some portions of Santa Ysabel and North Wynola and Wynola, Japatul, Boulevard, Valley Center and Lake Wohlford. Click "read more" and scroll down for details.
By David Ross
A special joint investigation by East County Magazine and Valley Center Press into the county takeover of rural fire districts
PART II in a series
October 3, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- Recently a volunteer fire chief in the Backcountry wrote this (pun intended) inflammatory conclusion about the level of preparedness at his rural department: “The _____ currently is at a dangerously low staffing level that is putting current firefighters, residents and visitors in danger.”
The name of the organization is left out (it is revealed later below), because it is a generic statement that might very easily apply to several communities in San Diego County’s rural unincorporated area.
By Nadin Abbott
October 3, 2013 (San Diego) As we noted in an earlier article, we approached the County about a disturbing trend we found of shelters not being open after they were announced as shelters during emergencies:
After presenting our concerns to the Supervisors, we followed through with the County and did a public records request for correspondence or other records regarding the shelters found closed.
READERS EDITORIAL: SOUNDING THE ALARM AS COUNTY BREAKS PROMISES FOR FIRE PROTECTION IN RURAL EAST COUNTY
By Howard W Cook, Jacumba Hot Springs Sponsor Group Chair
September 30, 2013 (Jacumba) -- When the Jacumba Hot Springs Community showed up to attend The Real East County Fire Safe Council(Ken Daubach, President) tonight 09/30/2013 at the Jacumba Hot Springs Fire station, the station was completely dark. Shutdown as it has been frequently in the past month. Likewise, Boulevard Fire Station was also dark tonight as it has been for most of the past several months.
Yet, in the EIR's for all of the recent electrical projects, Eco at Jacumba and the Boulevard substation as well as the Tule wind farm project the Fire Dept. establishment promised 24/7 coverage.
East County doesn't know who in the Fire establishment they can trust.
We had an medical emergency today out at De Anza Resort(probably a fatality). Eventually the station at White Star responded after an hour.
By Janis Mork
October 3, 2013 (San Diego)- At its September 11 meeting, the Board of Supervisors received an update from the Office of Emergency Services (OES) on how the department is better preparing San Diego for the 2013 fire season. The board also learned steps to keep those with special needs safe and what caregivers can do.
Supervisor Dave Roberts, a former firefighter, spoke first. “ I have tremendous respect for fire fighters…[to] take care of the vulnerable population.” He thanked the OES for its efforts and said he is pleased to be moving the item forward. “This will help get caregivers more assistance.. It’s my hope that today everyone will leave with a better understanding of being prepared.”
Photo by Donnie Durfee
September 29, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – A brush fire charred approximately 10 acres yesterday afternoon near Highway 94 and the border checkpoint, the Deerhorn Valley Antler reports. Multiple firefighting agencies swiftly responded, along with helicopters to douse the blaze, dubbed the Pink Fire. No structures were burned.
September 27, 2013 (San Diego's East County)--The National Weather Service today issued a Red Flag Warning due to high winds, dry brush and increased fire danger in San Diego County. The Red Flag Warning will be in effect from 12 p.m. Friday, September 27 through 6 p.m. Saturday, September 28 for the following communities: Ramona, Valley Center, Fallbrook, Escondido, El Cajon, Alpine, Potrero, Campo, Santa Ysabel, Descanso, Julian, Ranchita, and Warner Springs.
“Firefighting agencies throughout the state will be on high alert this weekend,” said Cal Fire Captain Mike Mohler. “This is the first Red Flag Warning of what is shaping up to be one of the most challenging fire seasons in many years. High winds can turn a spark into a devastating wildfire in just minutes, so we’re calling on San Diegans to be extremely vigilant in the high fire-risk areas of the county.”
During the Red Flag Warning, Cal Fire urges all Californians to exercise extreme caution outdoors in order to prevent wildfires. A few helpful reminders and fire prevention tips include: