By Miriam Raftery
May 24, 2017 (Dulzura) – Back on in early April, Supervisor Dianne Jacob wrote to three officials at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management urging them to close down public shooting in and around Donohoe mountain in Dulzura. Her requests were ignored, and last weekend, the Gate Fire that starting by a shooting range in the area charred over 2,000 acres, caused evacuations of residents and an exhaustive response by fire officials and first responders to keep the public safe.
Now, Jacob has fired off a new letter – this one to Ryan Zinke, the new Secretary of the Interior, which oversees the BLM.
“Due to the continuing public safety issues and the recent major fire event, it is my hope that you will take immediate action to do what is necessary to prohibit shooting in this specific area,” Jacob wrote in her letter, with copies sent to Congressman Juan Vargas, BLM Field Manager Douglas Herrema, fire and law enforcement officials.
She noted that wildfires are threats year-round in our region, adding, “Over the past several years, I have held multiple meetings with concerned Dulzura residents, BLM officials, and representatives from fire and law enforcement regarding the fire danger associated with shooting on this specific area of BLM land near Donohoe Mountain. I have also sent multiple letters, to no avail, to BLM Field Managers and the California BLM State Director requesting that shooting be prohibited in this area.”
In her earlier letters to Herrema as well as to acting State BLM Director Joe Stout and Calif. Desert District Manager Beth Ransel, Jacob said concerned Dulzura residents for several years have reported “serious public safety issues and fire hazards associated with a large increase in shooting,” including bullets traveling close to residents.
Cal Fire Public Information Officer Isaac Sanchez has told ECM that a criminal investigation is underway into cause of the Gate Fire. The cause has not yet been determined, however a video posted on Instagram that purports to show the fire started at or near a shooting range is being examined and the person who filmed it is cooperating with authorities, Sanchez said. The gate is marked as BLM property.
“This selfish insanity has got to stop,” says Robin Brailsford in a letter to Supervisor Jacob May 21. Brailsford, a neighbor who has complained about the shooting in the past. She added that even while Highway 94 was closed and residents displaced, shooters were still active on Donohoe Mountain. “Shut it down! Please!”
Cal Fire has long tried to get the BLM to ban target shooting on federal lands locally during fire season, as Cal Fire already orders on state-controlled lands. July 2012, ECM reported, six brush fires were caused by shooting firearms in East County on federal BLM lands in the Otay Wilderness area.
“We would like to institute prevention measures so that nobody’s house burns down,” John Kremensky, then Cal Fire’s Battalion Chief assigned to the Dulzura Battalion, told ECM.
At that time, Clayton Howe at the BLM sent a letter to Chief Kemensky stating he’d added fire prevention patrols to educate shooters on safety and proposed possible closure of BLM lands south of State Route 94 to shooting during fire season.
That proposal prompted objections from target shooters such as Mitch Dashiell, a retired Naval officer a sporting goods business owner who said he taught his kids to shoot on public lands, adding, “I want my grandkids to be able to enjoy it also without finding locked gates.”
But some things have changed in recent times. Climate change has resulted in longer fire seasons and worse wildfires than in the past. In addition, products such as exploding ordnance have exacerbated dangers. Some residents have reported finding chemical packets with exploding ordnance at the sites of other past local fires. Use of exploding targets or ammo is prohibited on federal BLM lands but catching violators is a challenge in these rarely patrolled areas.
Hannah Gbeh, a member of the Jamul-Dulzura Planning Group, also voices concerns over the recent Gate Fire. “From my count, this is at least the third fire that has started at this BLM area in the last year,” she said. “I would encourage you to please urge all your concerned readers to contact Congressman Juan Vargas about this fire and shooting site, as he is our best resource right now for immediate action (due to the fact that BLM land is under federal jurisdiction. “
Here is Congressman Vargas’ contact information below:
51st District, Juan Vargas
San Diego Office: 333 F. Street, #A, Chula Vista, CA 91910
Phone: (619) 422-5963; Fax (619) 422-7290
Washington D.C. Office: House of Representatives, 1605 Longworth, Washington D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-8045; Fax: (202) 225-9073
Gbeh added, “I called his D.C. office personally this morning and they were very receptive to my concerns,” she stated on Monday, May 22.”
She notes that there are safer places for shooting. “It is important to note this particular spot is NOT the locally ‘approved and permitted’ shooting range in Dulzura, which appears to cause no problems to the community,” Gbeh made clear.
On the Jamul Facebook page, lively discussions have ensued, with many urging that the range were fires have occurred be shut down completely, while others support the right to shoot and believe it should be better patrolled by BLM rangers and kept clear of vegetation.
Meanwhile for area residents, some of whom lost homes in the devastating 2007 firestorms, the range is a source of fear that their rebuilt homes or worse, lives could be extinguished from a new wildfire that starts with a single spark from a careless shooter at the range.