By Nadin Abbott
Photo: Firefighters battle spot fire in Lakeside; photo by Jeff Holz
May 26, 2013 (San Diego East County)—Fire season is off to an early start. Yesterday, even as firefighters fought to contain the 1800-acre San Felipe fire in the mountains of East County, four new fires drew resources from across the region. Here is a wrap-up on those fires in Ramona, Lakeside, the Santee/San Diego boundary area, Dulzura, and the border region.
1800 ACRES OF WILDERNESS SCORCHED IN SAN FELIPE FIRE AMID GROWING QUESTIONS OVER OUT-OF-CONTROL BURN
Dozers ordered to Volcan Mountain
By Miriam Raftery
“Something will have gone out of us as people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed.” – Wallace Stegner
May 24, 2013 (Julian) Updated May 29, 2013 – The quote above is inscribed on the Volcan Mountain Foundation webpage, a site devoted to protecting the wilderness preserve. But today, as a raging wildfire that started as a controlled burn encroached, bulldozers were ordered to cut a firebreak on the crest of Volcan Mountain, ECM has learned.
Meanwhile an ECM investigation has raised growing questions over whether this fire could have been prevented. Those questions include:
- Why did Cal-Fire order a controlled burn in hot weather just hours after a high wind advisory had expired?
- Why did the National Weather Service issue a spot fire weather report to Cal-Fire advising lower wind speeds when it has no wind monitor in the valley where the fire occurred?
- Why was Volcan Mountain Foundatiion advised conditions were too dangerous for it to conduct pile burning, yet Cal-Fire conducted its own controlled burn?
- Why did fire officials underestimate the potential size of this fire at 500 acres? (It has burned over 1,800 acres and is 60% contained.)
- Should Cal-Fire’s plan to sharply increase the number of acres it clears statewide be axed given the consequences of this out-of-control burn?
By Nadin Abbott
Update May 24, 2013: 2 p.m. - The blaze is now 1800 acres.
Update May 24, 2013: Cal Fire held the blaze to 1500 overnight and now has 60% containment, with no threat to structures. One minor injury to a firefighter occurred.
May 23, 2013 (San Felipe)—Around 1 p.m., Cal Fire informed San Diegans through its Twitter account that it was conducting a controlled burn near the site of last year’s Ranchita Fire.Soon after, according to Cal Fire Deputy Chief Kely Zombro, “The winds shifted in an unprecedented way.”
The fire escaped the containment area, triggering mobilization of resources from across the region. As luck would have it, a multi-agency wildland training drill was being conducted at the Barona Reservation, where firefighters were swiftly shifted from the drill to the fire scene for a hands-on real-life exercise.
Photo by Jamelle McCullough
May 23, 2013 (San Diego's East County)--A controlled burn has grown out of control due to a change in wind directions. The fire started along State Route 78 at the Great Southern Overland Stage route. Authorities initally predicted the blaze had potential for 500 acres, but it has now topped 1,500 acres with 30% containment.
There is no current threat to structures of infrastructure, per Cal Fire.
The California Highway Patrol website indicates that a closure has been ordered on S-2 at S22 and at State Route 78. Smoke is blowing across San Felipe. According to the Julian News editor, the route from Shelter Valley to Warner Springs is blocked. Road closures are expected to remain in effect through tomorrow.
Photo by Kim Hamilton
Update 5 p.m.: The fire has reached 100 acres and is burning uphill and into the Otay Truck Trail area, closer to homes. Smoke is visible from Highway 94.
Update from Cal-Fire at 4:40 p.m.: CAL FIRE is on scene of a 7 acre vegetation fire along the US/Mexico Border near Alta Road and Tin Can Hill (TB Map 1352 C3). Currently we have 17 engines, 6 fire crews, 4 airtankers, 2 helicopters, 1 bulldozer, 3 water tenders and 2 chief officers either on scene or enroute.
The fire was dispatched at 4:14 and the fire originated in Mexico. No structures are threatened.
May 22, 2013 (Otay) – Firefighters are battling a fast-spreading brush fire that started at Alta Road and Via De La Amistad in the east Otay area south of Otay Lakes. The fire has charred at least seven acres and has potential to burn 300, IPN reports.
There are currently no structure threats. On flank has slowed but the other side is “taking off” per IPN. Six hand crews and ten type-3 engines have been requested by the incident commander.
SAN MIGUEL FIRE DISTRICT AND CAL FIRE SEEKING VOLUNTEERS FOR WILDFIRE PREPAREDNESS AND PREVENTION CAMPAIGN MAY 25
May 22, 2013 (Spring Valley) – Maybe becoming a volunteer Firefighter is a bit much, but please consider being a volunteer “Fire Preventer.”
The San Miguel Fire District in cooperation with its partner CAL FIRE, is ramping up its “Before the Threat, Are You Ready” preparedness and prevention campaign. This massive public education effort provides critical preparedness information with an old- fashioned door-to-door contact.
Again this year they are hoping teams of community volunteers join CAL FIRE Firefighters in a door-to-door campaign in the Districts high hazard urban interface areas. Two major fires in four years have shown all of us the need to be prepared and to create defensible space, to have an evacuation plan, and have the supplies necessary to take care of your families for up to a week.
Residents Urged to Clear Defensible Space, Plan for Family Readiness
May 22, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – California has already seen 1,569 wildfires this year, about 500 more fires compared to the same period last year and 85 percent more fires than in an average year. With the long, hot and dangerous summer a real possibility, County Supervisor Dianne Jacob and public safety officials today urged residents to protect their homes against wildfires by creating a 100-foot buffer zone.
“Now is the time to prepare for what is shaping up as a tougher-than-usual fire season,” said Supervisor Jacob. “The firestorms of 2003 and 2007 taught us that homes with defensible space are far more likely to survive than homes without it.”
By Sholeh Sisson
May 22 2013 (Ramona)-- Mike Mohler, spokesman from Cal-Fire, has informed East County Magazine that a vehicle/ residential fire burned into brush in a nearby field. Fire crews halted the blaze at one-quarter acre.
The fire was dispatched at 11:55 this morning and resources will be there until 2 p.m. Avoid area near 2014 Montecito while crews are at work.
HOMELESS WOMAN IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER FIRE BURNS HOMELESS CAMP, MOBILE HOMES AND VEHICLES IN LAKESIDE
Ordeal shines spotlight on East County’s failure to offer shelter for the homeless
“We are too late. We the community of East County have let our homeless vets down again.” --a reader's post on Fox News story about the fire
By Nadin Abbott and Miriam Raftery; photos by Billy Ortiz and Nadin Abbott
May 12, 2013 (Lakeside) – It was a grim Mother’s Day for families displaced by a fire that ravaged mobile homes in Lakeside today, and for a homeless woman veteran who is hospitalized with serious burns.
Photos by Leslie O'Brien and Nancy Hauer
Update: Forward spread is halted; firefighters are expected to remain on scene through this evening.
May 12, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- A brush fire that began near the river bed at 13425 Old Highway 80 near Las Coches Road could reach 20 acres or more and is now burning mobile homes. A female burn patient from a homeless camp that burned has been transported to a hospital.
Two strike teams and a helicopter have been ordered. CHP is shutting down traffic on Las Coches.
By Nadin Abbott
May 12, 2013 (El Cajon)—California Governor Edmund G. Brown declared the past week “Wildfire Awareness Week.” On Thursday, the top brass fromr Cal-Fire and San Diego Sheriff’s Department addressed the media. ECM also spoke with Lakeside Division Chief R. Laff.
All officials are urging San Diego residents who live in the urban-rural interface, as well as rural areas to be ready for a severe fire season that’s started early. So far Cal Fire has responded to more than 1,100 wildfires already, which is 500 more than normal for this time of year. According to Cal Fire Chief Cal Fire Chief Dale Hutchinson, Southern Region Chief 40,000 acres burned last week.
Officials are urging residents to get ready and maintain 100-feet of defensible space. This is not optional; it is the law, as Chief Hutchinson told us, for those in the urban-wildland interface. Also clean your gutters, and other places where dry vegetation might accumulate. If you do any remodeling, look into the latest fire resistant materials. In addition, remove all tree branches that are within six feet of your home.
By Nadin Abbott
May 12, 2013 (Lakeside) Updated May 13, 2013—A fire that led to voluntary evacuations on Mapleview in Lakeside yesterday serves as an early warning of the difficult fire season forecast due to unusually dry conditions this year. According to Lakeside Fire Chief Andy Parr, the fire started at 3:40 p.m. and crews quickly mobilized. The fire started at the top of the hill and raced downhill towards the San Diego River.
“It is very dry, it was bigger and moved faster than they usually do at this time of the year,” Chief Parr told ECM. This is expected to be a very busy fire season and Chief Parr emphasized, “it is critical that residents have defensible space.”
At the top of the hill, one property stood out. (Photo, top left). The owner had cleared 100 feet of defensible space as recommended around the property, Chief Parr pointed out.
Photos by Billy Ortiz and Kari Koch
May 11, 2013 (Lakeside) -- A fire this afternoon in Lakeside at Mapleview and Lake Jennings led to evacuations ordered along Mapleview, charring at least six acres, according to eyewitnesses.
Posts at the Brush Fire Partyline on Facebook and e-mails from ECM readers indicated heavy smoke in El Monte Valley. Air attacks and multiple fire units on scene have swiftly knocked down the blaze, numerous witnesses have advised ECM. Watch for further updates.
If you have updates on this incident please e-mail email@example.com and also post in comments section below to inform readers. Watch for updates soon; our reporter is en route.
May 10, 2013 (Ramona) -- The federal government has provided another extension on the announced closure of the Ramona Airport's air traffic control tower and other similar facilities across the nation, this time through at least September 30.
“The decision to keep the Ramona Airport tower open for now is a step in the right direction, but the federal government needs to come up with a long-term budget fix," Supervisor Dianne Jacob said in a press statement today. "Closing the Ramona tower at the end of September would endanger our region when we need the air traffic facility the most. Many of San Diego County’s biggest and deadliest wildfires, including the 2003 and 2007 firestorms, have started in our backcountry in the fall."
By Nadin Abbott
Photos Tom Abbott
May 8, 2013 (Jamul)—As part of the County’s efforts to consolidate rural fire departments, the San Diego Rural Fire Protection District was asked last night whether “it will continue to operate as an independent fire district or dissolve and become part of the new County Fire Authority (CFA).”
The County has given the District until June 30th to sign on a one-year contract that would extend the current contract with Cal-Fire, but ultimately would lead to the dissolution of the district under the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO.)
The pending decision has sparked concerns among residents in the District, which is a high fire risk area that has seen some of the worst wildfires in our region. It is also the area where major new energy projects are proposed which would increase the risk of fire.
Public urged to Report Suspicious Activity
May 8, 2013 (Sacramento) –While encouraging wildfire preparedness this week, CAL FIRE is also reminding residents of the dangers posed by arson. CAL FIRE is pleased to join the United States Fire Administration (USFA) in announcing the theme for the 2013 Arson Awareness Week: Reducing Residential Arson. The goal for this year’s Arson Awareness Week, which takes place May 5-11, 2013, is to provide all residents with strategies to combat arson in their neighborhoods.
According to the USFA’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) during 2008-2010, an estimated 16,800 intentionally set fires in residential buildings occur annually in the United States. These fires result in an estimated 280 deaths, 775 injuries, and $593 million in property loss each year. The average dollar loss for an intentionally set fire in a residential building is $21,320. The fatality rate for intentionally set residential fires was more than twice that of other residential building fires.
May 7, 2013 (Sacramento) – California has already experienced an increase in fire activity, and to ensure Californians are ready, Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. has declared May 5-11, 2013 as “Wildfire Awareness Week”. During Wildfire Awareness Week CAL FIRE is reminding residents of the dangers from wildfires and the simple steps that should be followed to prepare and prevent them.
“The conditions right now are what we should be experiencing in June,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director. “This year’s dry winter has resulted in a significant increase in fire activity, in fact CAL FIRE firefighters have responded to nearly 1,100 wildfires this year, which is over 500 more than average.”
BACKCOUNTRY RESIDENTS TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE DOWNTOWN MONDAY TO OPPOSE WIND ORDINANCE AND BOULEVARD PLAN AMENDMENT
May 3, 2013 (San Diego)—On Monday, May 6 at 1 p.m., East County residents opposed to the proposed County Wind ordinance and Boulevard Plan amendment will hold a press conference outside the County Administration Center at 1600 Pacific Highway (by the fountain on the west side.)
“On May 8th, the Board of Supervisors will make a life-altering choice for rural East County residents and valued resources,” a press release sent by the Protect Our Communities Foundation and Backcountry Against Dumps. Supervisors must choose to either “sell out to the taxpayer-subsidized wind industry and developers and turn the ruggedly beautiful Boulevard/Jacumba area into an unnecessary industrial energy sacrifice zone and fire trap," the rural residents say, or"protect and defend the ratepayers and real people and resources in the predominantly low-income fire-prone area from expensive, unreliable, and dangerous industrial wind turbine projects and related web of electrical infrastructure.”
Speakers will include rural residents and a fire official speaking out on dangers posed by industrial wind projects in our region.
By Miriam Raftery
May 3, 2013 (Sacramento) – With two major fires in Southern California threatening thousands of homes and smaller fires burning statewide, Governor Jerry Brown has responded to requests for support from Cal Fire and the California Emergency Management Agency. He has directed Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin with the California National Guard to provide two specialized firefighting C-130J aircraft and crews from the Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing to assist with the wildfires.
Cal Fire has also activiated a DC 10 (photo, left) Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) capable of carrying 11,600 gallons of retardant, gel, foam, or water—four times the capacity of a C-130 plane.
The Springs Fire in Ventura County has swelled to 18,000 acres and is only 20% contained, forcing evacuations; the Summit Fire in Riverside County has charred over 2,900 acres and is 75% contained. For details on additional fires, see Cal Fire’s incident page.
FIRE THAT DESTROYED $4 MILLION WIND TURBINE RAISES SERIOUS QUESTIONS OVER LACK OF REPORTING REQUIREMENTS
Wind company fails to call fire department, lets blaze burn overnight
By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Tehachapi fire, 2012
April 27, 2013 (San Diego’s East County)—Why is there no federal requirement for wind farm operators to report fires?
That troubling fact came to light following a turbine malfunction that caused a fire, destroying a $4 million wind turbine at the Kibby Mountain facility in Maine. Opponents accuse Trans-Canada of a cover up, the Bangor Daily News reports. (Trans-Canada, builder of the project, is also the company seeking to construct the controversial Keystone Pipeline.)
A sensor in the turbine detected the fire. But an employee did not arrive on scene until the next morning, after the fire had burned itself out. The fire department was never notified, nor was any state agency. Had the blaze not occurred in winter with snow on the ground, the fire could have spread to the adjacent forest, a Maine forestry official has stated.
ECM has asked Cal-Fire in an e-mail whether wind facility operators are required to report fires to fire officials. No response has been received.
May 3, 2013 (San Diego) -- according to the California Highway Patrol CAD system, there is a small vegetation fire on State Route 94 at Kelton. The Offramp has been shut down by the CHP. A brush fire is also reported in Valley Center at Lilac and Sierra Rojo.
Major fires are burning elsewhere in Southern California, always a concern as resources are spread thin to battle multiple blazes amid high-fire danger conditions region-wide.
Update: This fire was halted at 15 acres.
May 3, 2013 (Santa Ysabel) – A brush fire now called the Highway 2 Fire has burned at least 15 acres along State Route 78 at Witch Creek. The blaze is burning eastward in light grass. A blaze is also reported near Highway 78 and Hiddean Valley Road; it is unclear if these are the same fire or two separate ones. Info is from Cal Fire; watch for details soon.
May 3, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – We are currently under severe fire conditions. Homeowners are advised to do the following if there are reports of wildland fires:
• Listen to local radio or TV stations for updated emergency information. Follow instructions of local officials regarding the safest escape route. (It may be different than you expect; wildland fires can change direction and speed up suddenly.)
• If you have one, turn on your FRS Radio and set it to your neighborhood’s channel and code. Check in, and continue to monitor for new information. Channel ______ Code _______
• If you believe the fire is too close to your location, evacuate immediately. (The fire may be moving too fast for officials to issue evacuation notifications.) Choose a route away from the fire and other potential fire hazards.
Update: Aircraft have been released from the Ramona fire. Otay Fire has been stopped at 120 acres.
Photo by Paul Kruze
May 3, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- A 15-20 acre fire named Harvest Fire is burning near Otay Mountain. It is east of Brown Field and is threatening a salvage yard, Cal Fire reports. There are no threats to structures currently.
Cal-Fire is at the scene of a small brush fire in Ramona. The fire is at the Ramona Canyon RV Park, 24340 Highway 78. An air attack has been ordered.
May 2, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) -- Susan Conniry, a director of the Lakeside Fire District, is the speaker at the May 16 meeting of the East County Democratic Club. She will address issues related to her work on the board, including fire prevention. The club meets at 7 p.m. at Coco’s Restaurant, 1025 Fletcher Parkway, El Cajon.
Conniry and her husband, Tom Beasley, are Cedar Fire survivors because they were prepared for the worst. Well-versed in matters of fire prevention, the couple have trained hundreds of San Diego County residents through a disaster preparedness program entitled, “Ready or Not.” Training has beendone in partnership with local fire departments, fire safe councils, and CERT groups. In 2006, the couple authored a handbook, Ready or Not – A Disaster Survival Handbook.
May 2, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- A red flag warning is in effect today and tomorrow through 6 p.m. due to high fire danger from excessive heat, low humidity and high winds.
Cal-Fire has provided an update on fire activitity across the state, including a nearly 3,000-acre fire in RIverside County, as well as increased increased steps that Cal Fire is taking to ensure our region is prepared.
By Miriam Raftery
May 1, 2013 (Ramona) – Responding to long lines at airports across the nation, Congress passed legislation on April 26 to restore funding for air traffic controllers at many major airports. But wording that would have saved the air traffic control tower at Ramona Airport was removed, ECM has learned.
“While I welcome the news that Congress moved to prevent harmful cuts in the FAA budget, I’m extremely disappointed that wording aimed at saving the Ramona Airport tower and other towers was stripped from the legislation,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
Update: The fire off 125 reached 20 acres and is now contained.
April 28, 2013 – A brush fire that began along State Route 125 in the vicinity of Magdalena and Birch Streets is now two acres. Helicopters are battling the blaze. Access is difficult for hose-lays. The blaze is in a canyon near Olympian High School. State Route 125 has been closed in both directions.
In Otay, a small fire has also been reported near the George Bailey Detention Center.
Congressional legislation aims to halt June 15 closure of FAA tower, others
County News Service
April 23, 2013 (San Diego)--The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (4/23) urged federal lawmakers to approve pending legislation in Congress that would save the Ramona Airport traffic control tower. The board, on a 5-0 vote, endorsed a pair of bipartisan federal bills that would halt the June 15 closure of the East County facility, along with nearly 150 other towers funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.
April 18, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Create a zone around your house that will slow the wildfire down and possibly direct it around your home. To do this, you must view your yard as a fuel source. Fire will only burn if fuel is present. Fuel can be your landscaping, woodpiles, decks, etc. To create your defensible space, take the following steps within 30 feet of your home, 50 feet if you live in a heavily treed area or 100 feet if your home is on a hillside. If you live in California, a minimum of 100 feet is required (some areas may require more. Check with your local fire department).