Local fire board member questions County Fire Authority’s reliance on Cal Fire in wake or ruling
By Miriam Raftery
A Superior Court judge has fined Cal Fire $32 million to cover legal bills for Sierra Pacific Industries after Cal Fire blamed a logger working for the company of causing a 2007 wildfire in Plumas County. Judge Leslie Nichols accused Cal Fire of “egregious and reprehensible conduct” including covering up evidence, lying, and engaging in “corrupt and tainted actions.”
Cal Fire had sought to recover its firefighting costs. But the case against Sierra Pacific was dismissed in July for lack of evidence and last week, the judge announced sanctions against Cal Fire.
January 1, 2014 (San Diego's East County) -- Governor Jerry Brown granted a Christmas Eve pardon to a firefighter who saved a teenager’s life during the Harris Fire in Potrero after suffering serious burns herself.
Brooke Linman had been convicted of firearms, drug and theft charges almost 20 years ago, but straightened her life out and began working as a firefighter in 2001. In 2007, her Cal-Fire crew was sent to help save homes in Potrero, where they helped evacuate Richard Varshock and his father, Thomas Varshock, who had been trying to defend their home against the firestorm. But the fire engine was overcome and caught fire, forcing them all to race on foot through a wall of flames.
November 20, 2013 (Spring Valley) – Growing marijuana indoors can prove hazardous to your health and wealth. No, we’re not talking about smoking pot—we’re talking about pot going up in smoke.
Firefighters found that a fire at a Spring Valley home on Campo Road this morning was caused by a marijuana grower’s illicit hookup to a nearby power pole. The blaze caused $40,000 in structural damage and burned up 40 to 50 mature marijuana plants ready for harvest. An average plant grown indoors yields 3.5 ounces of pot, with a street value of $200 to $1,000 an ounce. In addition, SDG&E could opt to hold the growers responsible for the cost of the stolen electricity.
Photos by Deborah Horger, , Jeff Holz. Rebecca Jefferis Williamson and Imed Fehri and Alexis Parmnnoff
Update October 7, 2013 --SDG&E advises that the suspected cause of the outage is a faulted capacitor station. All power was restored by 1:30 p.m.; the outage began at 10 a.m. affecting 4,501 customers.
October 6, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- An SDG&E sky crane loaded with 2,500 gallons of water helped firefighters halt a brush fire in Lakeside at 28 acres. No structures were lost; mop-up activiites will continue through the night. The blaze began shortly after power went out to more than 4,500 customers for reasons that SDG&E's website indicated were unkown at the time of the outage; power has been fully restored.
Below are our earlier updates on this fire, which began at Aquilla Drive in Lakeside and sent smoke billowing forth that was visible across much of East County as well as Poway and San Diego.
An advisory evacuation clearly means that authorities believe those homes are at risk of burning. But by not opening shelters-- or closing shelters unannounced in the middle of an emergency--officials are sending a disturbing signal: If you leave now, you’re on your own.
September 10, 2013 (San Diego) East County Magazine has encountered disturbing issues with emergency shelters found closed during three major evacuations in the past two months alone. How many other times has this have occurred—and what can be done to better protect residents during disasters? Today, we brought the issue to the County Board of Supervisors at a public hearing.
August 18, 2013 (El Cajon) – At 11:51 p.m. Saturday night, Heartland Fire & Rescue crews in El Cajon, with assistance from Cal Fire, responded to reports of a fire in the 3-hundred block of Wisconsin Avenue. As fire crews arrived on scene, smoke was seen coming from apartment #3, at 314 Wisconsin Avenue.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
April 23, 2013 (Spring Valley)—A 5-year-old girl was bitten on the foot by a snake yesterday while playing in a grassy common area of a condo complex at 8700 Spring Canyon Road in the La Presa area of Spring Valley. CAL FIRE/San Miguel Fire District firefighters responded to the call shortly before noon. With help from residents, firefighters from Station 16 located and confirmed it to be a rattlesnake.
The child was transported to Sharp Grossmont where she is receiving anti-venom. "She is doing well, according to the mother," Leonard Villareal with San Miguel Fire told ECM today.
San Diego County Animal Services indicated there was a huge jump in snake calls yesterday. As the weather warms up, the snakes become more active.
Animal Poison Control Center offers several tips to avoid chance encounters with snakes:
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.
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.”
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.
March 20, 2013 (San Diego)—Federal employees and their families at a rally outside the 32nd Street Naval Station today came to bring attention to the effects of the federal sequester in their lives. This is a reality for them right now, not just a headline in a paper.
March 20, 2013 (San Diego’s East County)--Did you know that Cal Fire bureaucrats have joined the ranks of state agencies hiding taxpayer dollars? It’s sad, but true – recent Cal Fire headlines are less about the brave duty of firefighters and more about secreting taxpayer dollars away in a non-profit association.
Not only did Cal Fire hide $3.5 million, but they did so while Governor Brown and the Democrat-controlled Legislature slapped a $150 fire tax on rural residents from San Diego to the Northern California border.
January 22, 2013 (El Cajon)--CAL FIRE/San Diego will be burning approximately 100 acres in the Corte Madera Ranch area near the community of Pine Valley. The burn will take place tomorrow 1/23/2013 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. as part of a Vegetation Management Program. Smoke will be visible in many parts of East County.
Cal Fire and East County Magazine offer heating safety reminders for cold weather
January 13, 2013 (Pine Valley) – Firefighters battling a blaze at a mobilehome park in the 27500 block of Old Highway 80 in Pine Valley last night discovered a man’s body inside after extinguishing the blaze. Sheriff’s Bomb/Arson detectives have ruled out foul play.
Cal Fire spokesman Mike Mohler told ECM that investigators are looking at several potential causes, including the possibility that the victim may have perished due to an old or improperly used heating device in last night’s sub-freezing temperatures.
Here are important safety tips to stay warm and safe during cold weather:
December 13, 2012 (San Diego's East County--The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) , after working with the San Diego County Fire Authority along with several other agencies, today announced that residents within County Service Area (CSA) 135 are eligible for the $35.00 reduction on the State’s Fire Prevention Fee.
“CSA 135 includes all unincorporated areas of East County including the backcountry,” Captain Mike Mohler, public information officer at Cal Fire, told East County Magazine. The new Fee, which is being assessed on all habitable structures within the State Responsibility Area, is set at $150, but has a $35 reduction when the home is within a local fire protection agency.
November 17, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) –Supervisor Dianne Jacob has issued a statement urging backcountry residents who oppose the state fire tax fee to take the following steps to protect their rights in the event that litigation ultimately overturns the fees. While some support the fees as a means to fund firefighting services by Cal Fire during fiscally challenging times for the state, Jacob contends the tax places an unfair burden on rural residents.
"County Supervisor Dianne Jacob advises residents in her district to pay a new state fire tax now being levied on tens of thousands of local homeowners, but to do it under protest.
November 6, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)--CAL FIRE/San Diego County Fire Authority in cooperation with State Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service resources will conduct a prescribed burn in the area of the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve in East county near the community of Jamul. This burn is scheduled to take place during daylight hours on November 6.
November 3, 2012 (Sacramento) – State officials have started mailing notices to tens of thousands of San Diego County property owners warning that they will soon be billed $150 annually to help shore up Cal Fire’s budget. Budget cuts have dropped the number of firefighters per engine, among other cutbacks in wildfire protection.
Residents of Alpine, Dehesa and other communities in Jacob’s Second District report receiving the notices in recent days. They consider the new fire tax an unfair burden, noting they already pay state property taxes to help fund public safety and often community fees for additional fire protection.
October 16, 2012 (Spring Valley)- Civil engineer John Revels is running for the San Miguel Fire Board. In an exclusive interview with East County Magazine, he shared his views on his candidacy and the future of the fire district.
Revels was motivated to run because, “I got a flyer of what was going on at San Miguel fire board. I have nothing against Cal Fire; they are a great organization. I wanted to keep San Miguel independent as it’s always been [before the merger with Cal Fire]. So a year ago, I started attending meetings and talking to people, and I also went to meetings to speak to the board at Cuyamaca College.”
October 11, 2012 (Spring Valley)- Retiree Randy Dibb wants to run for the San Miguel fire board because he has “concern for the district” and wants to bring “changes.” His values include satisfying the needs of the constituents coupled with the dramatic changes in the way the district does business, and putting together a viable budget within the current concerns of the district.
October 10, 2012 (Spring Valley)- Fire captain/paramedic Dave Rickards hopes to get re-elected to the San Miguel Fire Board because “I care about the community I want the best fire protection in the community I live in.” The three-term incumbent is a district resident since 1990, spent 29 years in the fire service in El Cajon, and currently sits on the Heartland Communications Commission. He is also the Districts’ representative Finance Committee.” He adds, “We’re all training each other and we all have agreements that help each other out.”
He is also a U.S. Navy vet, a USS Midway volunteer, and a private pilot. He is currently a Company Engines Officer in the Fletcher Hills Community of El Cajon.
October 4, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) -- The cash-strapped San Miguel Fire District recently voted to outsource firefighting services to Cal-Fire. This election season, six candidates are running for four seats on the District’s board, which has taken heat from labor and the public over tough decisions made. ECM has contacted all candidates for information on their candidacies. Below, we profile business/college educator Dan McMillan. Other candidates are retiree Randy Dibb, retired civil engineer William A. Kiel, civil engineer John Revels, fire captain/paramedic David Rickards, and incumbent board member Karrie Johnston Scully. View a map of the district: http://www.smgfire.org/district-map.
October 4, 2012 (Spring Valley) - San Miguel fire board recently voted to outsource all fire services to Cal Fire. There are six candidates running for four seats on the board. Other candidates include retiree Randy Dibb, incumbent board members Karrie Johnston Scully, fire captain/paramedic David Rickards, civil engineer John Revels, and college educator/businessman Dan McMillan. View a map of the district: http://www.smgfire.org/district-map. Below is a profile on retired civil engineer William Kiel.