Photos above: Sign amid charred terrain reads, "As these habitats recover from fire, a colorful variety of bird liife will return."
By Miriam Raftery
March 28, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – One month after a controlled burn at Cuyamaca sparked controversy, as ECM reported , the State Park Service has failed to answer any of our questions. Two elected officials have issued statements supportive of burn policies despite mature pines and cedars being torched in a park an estimated 99% of its mature pines to the 2003 Cedar Fire, which charred 95% of the entire park.
But new photos taken after the burn reveal that the fire also burned d15-foot-tall saplings planted after the Cedar Fire, foot bridges, and a “habitat restoration” area for wildlife replanted as part of reforestation efforts after the Cedar Fire.
Cal Fire has insisted that the burn did not jump out of control, though local cabin owner Craig Maxwell says a state park ranger told him it did. But if firefighters did not lose control of the burn, this raises an even more troubling question: Why would State Park officials charged with protecting our public parks order the destruction of some of the last remaining mature pines and cedars, as well as plantings established to replaced what burned in 2003?
Moreover, this region has also been decimated by oak-boring beetles that have killed thousands of trees locally, making protection of what remains even more critical.
March 24, 2014 (Spring Valley) - A new, primary Incident Command Vehicle is now in service within the San Miguel Fire District, thanks to an award from Barona and Sycuan Casinos. The $45,000 grant covered 68 % of the total vehicle cost. That cost included Required Code 3 Equipment, VHF & 800mgz Radios and Installation. The total cost of the Command Vehicle was $65,000. The remainder of the cost came from the District’s Vehicle Replacement fund.
March 24, 2014 (Alpine) - The San Diego County Fire Chiefs and the Viejas band of the Kumeyaay nation will be conducting their annual Fire Preparedness Exercise on April 3rd , 4th and 7th on the Viejas Indian reservation.
By Nadin Abbott
March 9, 2013 (East County)-- Multiple resources responded to a brush fire Sunday afternoon with multiple ignition sources locations at Highway 94 and Barrett Junction on Sunday. The blaze approximately an acre and had four start-up points, including one over an old burn.
By Nadin Abbott
Photo, left taken March 8, 2014 by Greg Bowerman, creekcrossingphotography.com
Additional photos by Tom and Nadin Abbott
Update March 10: This fire is now contained.
Update March 9, 2014 -- The fire has burned 125 acres and is 30% contained according to the Incident page set up for the Gun Fire: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/3783/ . The wind advisory has been upgraded to a wind warning with gusts up to 70 mph on ridges possible.
March 8, 2014 (Mt Laguna) A fire that started around 1 p.m. in the afternoon in the Kitchen Creek area in Cleveland National Forest spread to 75-100 acres. The blaze was 5 percent containment by 4:40 p.m. with no estimate yet for full containment.
A wind advisory has been issued for tomorrow and ECM news partner 10 News reports that crews could be battling this fire for days. Sustained winds of 15-30 mph with gusts up to 55 mph are forecast.
Power is out to more than 500 residences in Japatul Valley, Buckman Springs, Morena Village, Guatay, Pine Valley and Mount Laguna due to a power shut off to protect firefightings working closer to powerlines. SDG&E estimates power will be restored at 5:30 a.m. Sunday.
VIEJAS WILDFIRE ALERT: MAJOR BRUSH FIRE CLOSES HIGHWAYS, EVACUATIONS ORDERED IN CLEVELAND NATIONAL FOREST
Photo: View from Lyons Peak, looking east; WREN camera courtesy USCD
Update 3:35 p.m.: The fire is north of 8 and is now estimated between 75-100 acres and is 5% containued; evacuations have been lifted. The I-8 freeway is open; a hard closure is still in effect on Sunrise and Old 80 and Kitchen Creek area. SDG&E has shut power lines down due to fire burning close to the lines, so Mt. Laguna has no power right now. Powerlink is no longer considered threatened, per Wende Cornelius, USFS.
Update 2:55 p.m.: "We are evacuating Kitchen Creek and Cibbetts Flat in Cleveland National Forest," Wende Cornelius with CNF has informed ECM. Hikers and campers in the area are urged to leave. The fire is now 100 acres and due to high winds, some fixed wing aircraft have been temporarily grounded though helicopters continue doing water drops.
Sunrise Powerlink could be threatened, Cornelius stated, so be prepaerd for possible power outages. SDG&E is en route.
March 8,2014 (San Diego’s East County) – A brush fire on Sunrise Highway and Old Highway 80 has charred over 75 acres, IPN reports and aerial resources are on the scene, with a strike team positioningi in Pine Valley. Interstate is shut down from the Sunrise Highway exit to Buckman Springs, CHP reports. There is also a closure at Highway 79 just south of Lodge.
The fire is in the Cleveland National Forest and has been named the Gun Fire, due to its proximity to a shooting range. As of 2 p.m. there is a large header of smoke visible across East County.
IPN reported an earlier fire at State Routes 944 and 188 (Tecate Road). Multiple resources were dispatched to the fire which was estimated to have a potential of ten acres per the incident commander.
March 6, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – On March 4, the San Diego Rural Fire Protection District’s board majority voted to dissolve the district and join the County Fire Authority.
Board member Lou Russo (photo, left) voted against the action and says he intends to pursue a protest allowed under the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, that would require signatures from 25% of the district’s voters in order to put the matter on the ballot.
Russo said he views the County takeover of the district as “nothing more than a power grab.” He is also asking why residents in some Alpine areas did not receive a letter about the proposed action so that they could attend the meeting.
March 3, 2014 (San Diego): The Fire Safe Council of San Diego County, in partnership with the Resource Conservation District of San Diego County, is offering a free Defensible Space Assistance Program (DSAP) for low income seniors or disabled residents.
Source: Alpine Mountain Empire Chamber of Commerce
March 1, 2014 (Alpine)-- Fire benefit fees will increase by 1.1 percent this year in Alpine as a result of a 3-2 vote by the Alpine Fire Protection District Board. The increase would be about 71 cents a year for the average single-family dwelling and $1.80 annually for the average business to a total of $65.59 per home and $164 per business, according to district staff. Board members made the decision after their annual benefit fee review at their Feb. 18 meeting, when they also approved buying a new fire pumper with the help of a $127,802 Indian Gaming Local Community Benefit Grant.
County News Service
February 28, 2014 (San Diego) -- A new Sheriff’s Department helicopter could serve double duty, helping both law enforcement and firefighters. The Bell 407 GX helicopter the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department wants to add to its aerial fleet could also support local fire departments with fire suppression efforts.
February 26, 2014 (Lakeside)-- Arriving at Blue Sky Ranch on January 16th, a team of 10 young adults from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) began a 9-week service project. The team is working with Lakeside River Park Conservancy, Blue Sky Ranch and Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary on various projects until their departure on March 20th.
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.
Local fire board member questions County Fire Authority’s reliance on Cal Fire in wake or ruling
By Miriam Raftery
A Superior Court judge has fined Cal Fire $32 million to cover legal bills for Sierra Pacific Industries after Cal Fire blamed a logger working for the company of causing a 2007 wildfire in Plumas County. Judge Leslie Nichols accused Cal Fire of “egregious and reprehensible conduct” including covering up evidence, lying, and engaging in “corrupt and tainted actions.”
Cal Fire had sought to recover its firefighting costs. But the case against Sierra Pacific was dismissed in July for lack of evidence and last week, the judge announced sanctions against Cal Fire.
STANDING ROOM ONLY AT RURAL FIRE BOARD MEETING: VOTE TO DISSOLVE DISTRICT WILL BE TAKEN AT NEXT SESSION MARCH 4
By Nadin Abbott
February 5, 2014 (Jamul)—It was standing room only as Director Baldwin called the Rural Fire Protection District meeting to order in Jamul. In question was whether the Rural Fire District should dissolve and join the County Fire Authority. In phase three of the takeover, the County aims to absorb both the Pine Valley Fire District and the Rural Fire Protection District.
If the Rural District dissolves, the money that the County now puts into the District, to the tune of $3.6 million will continue. If the district does not dissolve, those funds will go away, and the district will only have the $1.6 million that it collects from residents. In effect, if the Fire District does not dissolve, it will have to reduce service and will only be able to staff the Jamul and Otay Stations, Director Dale Amato warned. The rest of the stations will have to go dark, or rely on volunteers—and there will be a significant degradation of fire protection service.
January 25, 2014 (Alpine) – Alpine residents, do you want to be prepared for a disaster in your community?
Alpine Fire Department is now accepting applications for its Community Emergency Response Team. The academy will begin March 1, 2014 from 9am-12pm every other Saturday for 10 sessions.
View video of groundbreaking
January 27, 2014 (Boulevard)--Drive 60 miles east of San Diego out Interstate 8 and you’ll reach Boulevard, a sparsely populated rural community of about 1,750 people. Your view will encompass manzanita trees and granite boulders, but no shopping malls or gleaming high rises. In fact, you won’t see a lot of newer buildings at all, and you won’t be surprised to learn the town’s fire station is a converted court office.
That last part won’t be true for long though. On Thursday, County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob joined County officials and community members to break ground on a new $3.5 million fire station, which will serve a 78-square-mile area.
January 22, 2014 (Dehesa) – Officials are investigating the cause of a white SUV found fully engulfed in fire on the morning of Tuesday, January 21.
“I am the resident that found the SUV while leaving for work. Fire was coming from the interior of the SUV with its windows rolled down part way,” Darin L. Wessel told ECM. The vehicle was pulled off Sloane Canyon Road at Model A Ford Lane, parked near trees and brush. Wessel took these photos after calling 911 and said the incident is being investigated as possible arson. “The conversations I overheard indicated there may have been a rag hanging out of the gas tank.”
January 20, 2014 (East County) A full brush response has been dispatched south of Community Building Rd near Dulzura. Fire crews are using Highway 94 to reach the area. According to the Incident Page Network this is a 1 acre brush fire with a slow rate of spread and no current structure threats.
A separate fire at Graves in El Cajon prompted by a vehicle striking a storage facility was upgraded to a second alarm but is now under control. SDG&E has been dispatched to the scene due to electrical damage. Due to the heavy smoke Fire requested Gillespie close down the landing strip briefly due to visibility issues.
A new fire is burning in Poway at Twin Peaks Road; a helicopter has been requested.
By Miriam Raftery
January 14, 2014 (San Diego's East County)--Are babies and children at risk of suppressed immune systems from wildfire smoke?
A new study at the University of Califiornia, Davis, suggests this could be the case.
The study was conducted by the University and by the California Air Resources Board. It looked at 25 young Rhesus Macaque monkeys born at the university’s Primate Research Center during summer of 2008, when smoke from over 2,000 fires that burned over a million acres drifted into the area. The monkeys born during the wildfires, and who were living outdoors, were found to have suppressed immune systems. Their blood samples were placed in tissue culture dishes, then exposed to disease pathogens—and showed reduced ability to generate immune responses to diseases than blood from 25 other monkeys born a year later.
SDG&E now offers critical weather page to look up conditions in your neighborhood
January 11, 2014 (San Diego's East County ) -- A red flag warning for a moderate to strong Santa Ana Wind event along with low humidity is expected Sunday evening through Wednesday afternoon for San Diego County. Wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour are likely with some isolated gusts of 65 mph on some ridge tops and canyons.
“Though Cal Fire has year round staffing in Southern California, these conditions warrant adding additional resources on for the duration of the red flag conditions that bring an elevated threat of wildfire," said Chief Dale Hutchinson, Cal Fire's Southern Region Chief. Cal Fire has placed additional firefighters on duty to staff extra equipment to augment normal staffing levels in the areas affected.
Cal Fire is asking everyone to be extra cautious during the heightened fire danger period in order to prevent wildfires. One less spark means one less wildfire. Be aware of the following activity restrictions and tips:
January 7, 2014 (Lakeside)--On January 19th, 2014, at 7:00 pm, the Lakeside Fire Protection District will take to the airwaves with the “Lakeside Emergency Net”. This new amateur radio net was developed to establish a working relationship between the Lakeside Fire Protection District and the amateur radio community throughout the East County area.
January 2, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)--During the past ten years, the U.S. Forest Service’s fleet of firefighting planes has dropped from 44 aircraft to just eight planes.
Now California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein has added language into the Defense Bill that would double the current fleet size to 16 planes – still far short of a decade ago.
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.