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Story by Kyle Serzen

Photo by Leon Thompson

May 27, 2009 (Cuyamaca College)—Despite the friendly conversation and satisfying meal at last Friday’s Rancho San Diego-Jamul Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Meeting at Cuyamaca College, the focus was a serious issue—fire safety and preparedness for East County residents as fire season approaches. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Dave Allen and San Miguel Fire District Chief August Ghio spoke on what to expect and how to be prepared in the upcoming months.

Fire season begins around September and runs through November, according to Allen, but San Diego residents know wildfires can occur at any time and it’s never too soon to be ready. Whenever fuel moisture levels fall below 60%, conditions are considered “extreme;” fuel moisture levels are currently at 54%. To make matters worse, San Diego firefighters are feeling the strain of the struggling economy. Property tax revenues are down $1.75 million and $800,000 is being cut from their budget.

Fortunately, some steps are being taken to ensure the safety of San Diego residents as we get closer to fire season. Viejas, Barona, and Sycuan Native American tribes have provided a grant of $1,352,000 to build a new regional training center to help maintain an adequate number of firefighters in the San Diego area. Grading for this facility is set to begin in early autumn. Ghio emphasized that the construction of this facility will cost “not one penny of taxpayers’ money.”

Ghio discussed the new “Before the Threat” campaign, which begins on July 18th. Over two weekends, the San Miguel Fire District in cooperation with Farmer’s Insurance will go to 400,000 homes in high risk areas to advocate fire safety. Each home should have a “defensible space;” that is, the first 50 feet around the home should be completely free of any dry or dead vegetation that could fuel a fire, and the next 100 feet should have no dead vegetation, although sparse green vegetation is okay. Ghio also stressed the importance of having an evacuation plan and a box of emergency supplies ready for family members and pets. “All you have to do is make a phone call. We’ll show up and give you advice,” said Allen.

Even with the Before the Threat campaign and the new training facility, residents of high risk areas need to take the initiative to make their homes fire-safe in the next several months.

Kyle Serzen is an SDSU student majoring in English and Political Science. He is currently an intern with East County Magazine.

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