Air tanker drops retardant
A giant Boeing 747 air tanker drops retardant on the Valley Fire. Courtesy Cal Fire

In a year of massive and damaging wildfires, San Diego County has improved efforts to protect itself, Cal Fire San Diego County Unit Chief Tony Mecham told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Mecham presented an overview of the Wildfire Resiliency Report to the board during its regular meeting and it voted unanimously to accept it.

The report focuses on regional fire preparedness, response and recovery capabilities.

One major improvement is staffing the county Fire Authority’s outreach division and a Community Wildfire Protection Plan offering guidance on defensible space, making homes more fire safe and evacuation, Mecham said.

Other improvements and upgrades are:

  • better geographic information system capabilities, featuring more staffing and new software to help capture data
  • four urban Search and Rescue units
  • steps to make the emergency interim housing process faster and more efficient
  • a Live Well Mobile Office to help those affected by the Valley Fire
  • a new plan for the evacuation, care and repopulation of animals during an emergency
  • identifying available debris and medical waste-disposal sites

Wildfires “are burning on an unprecedented scale” this year, Mecham said, with more than 18,000 firefighters battling blazes across California and Red Flag conditions present over much of the state Tuesday.

“All of this tells us we cannot let our guard down,” Mecham said, adding that fire conditions will be dry through December.

Numerous counties across California have been experiencing major fires this past summer and into the fall.

In San Diego County, the Valley Fire burned over 17,000 acres this month, destroying 30 residences and 31 outbuildings, damaging 11 other structures and injuring three firefighters, according to Cal Fire.

Mecham said the Fire Authority’s Wisecarver fuel break project to slow the fire’s spread, along with updated communication procedures, made a positive difference in fighting the blaze.

Supervisor Jim Desmond thanked Mecham and other county officials for their hard work. He also praised firefighters for putting their lives on the line during the Valley Fire.

“You guys all do a fantastic job,” Desmond said. “This is all very good news and our county is in good shape to tackle other fires.”

Board Chairman Greg Cox credited his colleague Dianne Jacob, along with former Supervisors Bill Horn and Ron Roberts, for being at the forefront of addressing fire safety issues.

“We are so much better prepared today than we were then,” Cox said.

Cox added that while San Diego County isn’t immune from future wildfires, better arrangements with various governmental agencies and the military “has really made a big difference.”

— City News Service