By Jan Hedlun
Potrero Resident and Wildfire Survivor
June 28, 2016 (Potrero) --I have heard that local and government agencies involved in the Border Fire are already patting themselves on the back, saying they handled everything perfectly without having sat down with community members for input. I notice they are holding meetings to tell each other what a good job they’ve done; meetings that most of us recovering from the wildfire did not hear about and could not get to.
I just saw on a Facebook post that today the San Diego County Board of Supervisors are going to “chat about how to provide assistance to victims of the fire at their meeting today." * Chat? Didn’t they have a multitude of meetings after the Cedar (2003), Harris and Witch Fires (2007) that dealt will these topics? Didn’t they come out with resolutions back then?
I’ve not heard from anyone that Supervisor Jacobs or other authorities have been out here to ask people face-to-face what happened and what could be improved upon. Don’t you think they would want to know all the facts from the people that were involved before holding all these self-congratulatory meetings?
I am a three time wildfire survivor and with each incident some things get better and some things far worse. Here’s what I can share of my personal observations about the Border Fire:
The firefighters, air crews and their support teams did an incredible job saving our structures and battling back the blaze. I do not know how they were able to save so many houses and outbuildings. I have seen how close the fire came to homes and can only applaud their accomplishments. I am sorry they could not save the ones they lost. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for their herculean endeavors to protect our communities. I hope those injured in our defense are resting well and healing. To the air crews whose accurate drops saved my place and so many others – thank you! Pink (the color of retardant) is my new favorite color.
SDG&E, and AT&T are still busting their butts to pull us back together and I want to extend a special thanks to the members of the Border Patrol Horse Unit who were in the thick of things, helping people where needed, gathering up and helping the many animals that were left behind, delivering food and supplies to Primeval Garden Farms, the emergency feed drop off, and acting as a go-between, at times, with the other law enforcement agencies.
The efforts made by the few local and government agencies that came in the first day or so were only adequate but it was not enough and not sustained, and some people who were left in the community had to take over when it became apparent we were on our own.
From the beginning a few determined residents made their way around the entire confined area of Potrero, taking their own feed supplies with them and carrying tanks of water in their vehicles, searching for animals stranded when their owners weren’t allowed through the roadblock, or whose animals were left behind by agencies sent to save them. Then those same few delivered water to families whose well pumps weren't working.
Those of us that ended up behind the roadblocks found ourselves in a military/police state. Law enforcement had their reasons for how things were done but the way many of the entrapped residents were handled, how they were spoken to and dealt with by officers sent to help us was uncalled for. We were treated worse than pariahs in our own community.
To quell the rumors, can someone tell us who authorized the cell tower to be shut off and then wouldn’t turn it back on when it was obvious the fire had passed through our area? When three major communication networks are down at once it is crippling. If I hadn’t had a generator and satellite internet I wouldn’t have been able to ask you for help. Thank you, Miriam for being there for our communities.
In the Harris Fire truck loads of supplies were sent to us from various groups and government agencies while the fires were still raging, and yet during the Border Fire nothing was forthcoming. Thank you to Deerhorn Valley for bringing in animal feed and basic supplies. Red Cross came in once the evacuation orders were lifted and Feed America brought bottled water and food. Thank you to so many others who’ve rushed to our aid as word spread.
There is always a balance of good and bad that comes out of an event of this size. As I indicated before, with all the many meetings held after the Cedar, Witch and Harris Fires many of these issues should have been resolved but apparently that was just planning to plan and we still have a long way to go.
Residents in Potrero, Campo and Lake Morena have expressed that we would like Supervisor Jacob and the heads of the agencies to join us for a Town Hall meeting in our area rather than at a time and place those directly affected by this wildfire are unable to attend. It’s easy to say things went well when no one is there from the affected communities to say otherwise.
*Update: The San Diego County Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved a plan to provide assistance to victims of the Border Fire in the East County. The action directs staff to distribute trash bins to residents who need to clear debris and to waive fees for various permits that will be needed in the rebuilding process," but the benefits will only apply for legally built, previously permitted structures.
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