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).
April 18, 2013 (El Cajon) – Have you paid $150 for the state fire fee? Have questions? You’re invited to join Assemblyman Brian Jones and Cal Fire at a town hall meeting on Thursday, April 25 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The event will be at the P2K range at 2082 Willow Glen Drive in EL Cajon.
To reserve a seat, call (619)441-2322.
April 17, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – A red flag warning is effect starting 9 a.m. Thursday to 5 p.m. Friday due to strong winds and low humidity, along with warm temperatures that combined will create “explosive fire growth potential,” according to the National Weather Service.
Northeast winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour with gusts of up to 50 mph are forecast. Daytime relative humidity of 5 to 10 percent is predicted with poor overnight recovery.
April 17, 2013 (Ramona) -- A small brush fire in the West Ramona area is contained, however live power lines are down at Walnut and Davis streets. Avoid the area. SDG&E reports 101 homes are without power due to a combination of causes.
April 12, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- The cause of today's spot fires along Interstate 8 was accidental, says Heartland Fire spoksman Sonny Saghera. Heartland responded to reports of several small fires along westbound I-8 from West Main Street in El Cajon to Severin Drive in La Meas around 1 p.m. today.
Heartland Fire & Rescue units from La Mesa and El Cajon, assisted by engines from Cal Fire and Santee, were dispatched to contain the four individual fires approximately 100 yards apart from each other. A structure on Murray Drive in La Mesa was briefly threatened, but fire crews aggressively attacked the flames to keep them along the freeway’s shoulder.
April 12, 2013 (La Mesa) -- Multilple small brush fires have broken out on I-8 in La Mesa, likely caused by a vehicle pulled over under the Grossmont bridge. Other fires are reported at the Spring Street exit. There is also fire reported on westbound 8 at Main Street in El Cajon.
Sources inform ECM that the fires are being knocked down quickly but smoke is heavy so expect lane closures in this area.
April 11, 2013 (Escondido) -- Firefighters are responding to a brush fire at Deer Springs and I-15 in the Escondido area. According to the Incident Page Network there are several spot fires, with a larger header farther south. One fire is now over an acre.
According to the CHP there is a second spot fire starting one to two miles from the original fire.
April 8, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- The California Department of Forest and Protection (CALFIRE) has requested that the state Board of Equalization (BOE) temporarily postpone the $150 State Responsibility Area (SRA) fee collection after receiving tens of thousands of appeals by homeowners contending that the fee was incorrectly assessed.
By Nadin Abbott; photos Tom Abbott
April 5, 2013 (Julian) At this morning’s meeting of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District board held at the Women’s Club, the Board voted 2-2 (with one unexcused absence) on the proposal to join the County Fire Authority and dissolve the District. Chairman Jack Shelver and Alan Marvin voted yes; Aida Tucker and Janet Bragdon voted no.
This means, according to Shelver, that “a tie is no action, and therefore we have taken no action, on the motion we have set in motion. We are no longer talking to the County about a contract and we will continue as an independent district.” At this announcement, the crowd, 50 strong, broke into cheers.
FAA POSTPONES CLOSURE OF AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL TOWERS UNTIL JUNE 15, WANTS COUNTY TO TAKEOVER OPERATIONS
April 5, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) --The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it will delay the closures of all 149 federal contract air traffic control towers from April 7 until June 15, including the Ramona Airport and Brown Field locally. The agency says the extra time will allow the FAA to try and resolve multiple legal challenges to the closures.
“The FAA delay is not good enough,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said in a press statement issued this morning. “U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today that safety is the FAA’s top priority. If that was the case, the federal government shouldn’t even be talking about pulling air controllers out of Ramona. The tower is on the front line of public safety in our region, and closing it would a disaster, especially as we approach the height of the wildfire season.”
April 3, 2013 (Otay) – The Deerhorn Valley Antler reports that a contractor awarded a grant to restore a section of Jamul Creek was mowing vegetation yesterday when the mower hit a rock, sparking a flame that started a brush fire.
“The grass was still green, so it was a bit surprising that it would burn,” Tracie Nelson of California Fish & Game told the Antler. The fire was doused quickly thanks to the swift actions of the worker and responding fire crews, with no damage to property.
By Miriam Raftery
March 30, 2013 (Julian) – Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District’s Acting Battalion Chief Cris Cornette has sent a resignation letter to the Board. In his letter, he faults the Board for not fighting to prevent a County takeover of the all-volunteer Department.
Now in a message posted on the Julian Connection, Cornette calls on community residents to attend Thursday’s Board meeting and “demand the immediate removal of ALL board members.” He adds that he would be willing to “step up to bat” and serve as a board member if asked--or return as Captain, but only if the current Board is replaced.
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.
By Miriam Raftery
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.
ANONYMOUS DONOR PLEDGES TO ERASE $85,000 BUDGET GAP FOR JULIAN FIRE DISTRICT-- BUT BOARD WON'T COMMIT TO SAVE FIRE DEPARTMENT
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.
SUPERVISORS ASK YOU TO CONTACT FAA , OPPOSE IMMINENT CLOSURE OF RAMONA AIR TRAFFIC TOWER CRUCIAL FOR FIREFIGHTING: COMMENT DEADLINE IS TOMORROW
By Nadin Abbott, photos Tom Abbott
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.”
RAMONA AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL MAY SHUT DOWN DUE TO SEQUESTRATION: TOWER IS CRITICAL FOR BATTLING WILDFIRES
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.
By Nadin Abbott; photos by Tom Abbott
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.
By Miriam Raftery
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.