County leaders presented plans Friday for a quick response to wildfires and discussed recent investments in wildfire prevention.
During a press conference at Gillespie Field in which residents were urged to take steps to protect their homes, Supervisors Joel Anderson and Nathan Fletcher were joined by representatives from Cal Fire, the county Fire Protection District, San Diego Sheriff’s Department and San Diego Fire-Rescue.
“We are ready to respond to wildfires,” said Fletcher, Board of Supervisors chairman and county Fire Protection District president. “Our county, together with our partners across the region, have the training, equipment and experience in fire prevention, protection and suppression; the duties they perform under very difficult circumstances are heroic.”
“Over the years our region has invested heavily in resources to support wildfire preparedness, but the increased fire danger from drought and climate change require us to do more,” Fletcher said. “Going forward, I will continue to work with my colleagues and regional leaders to explore more options to increase protections for our region.”
Last year, California experienced six of the largest and most destructive wildfires in state history, with more than 4 million acres burned, according to Fletcher’s office. In 2020, the Valley Fire that burned southeast of Alpine destroyed 30 homes and forced more than 1,400 residents to evacuate.
So far this year, firefighters in California have responded to more than 4,600 wildfires that have burned upward of 73,500 acres on state and federal lands. “Due to continued dry conditions and temperatures well above normal for this time of year, the 2021 wildfire season could be as catastrophic and devastating as last year,” according to Fletcher’s office. Nearly 80% of unincorporated land in San Diego County is in high or very high fire hazard severity zones.
Anderson, who represents fire-prone District 2, said it’s important that all San Diegans, and especially those in his district, make a wildfire preparedness plan.
“As a long-time resident of Alpine, I have witnessed firsthand how devastating wildfires can be,” Anderson said. “Wildfires do not discriminate in their destruction.”
Anderson said he thanked his fellow supervisors “for voting to allocate more funding to wildfire preparedness, which is crucial for the safety of our backcountry citizens.”
Kelly Martinez, county undersheriff, said fires “are extremely unpredictable, erratic and fast moving,” so residents need to prepare an emergency kit.
“If evacuation orders are made, leave early for your safety and so firefighters can do their job,” Martinez said. “Plan, prepare and stay aware.”
Since 2003, the county has spent $575 million on wildfire response. On Tuesday, supervisors approved spending $2.5 million in roadside vegetation management. Other recent investments include:
- Increased staffing and funding to convert three remote stations in the Fire Protection District from two to three firefighters
- An analyst who will assist with risk forecasting for wildland fires in the county
- One crew member each from the California National Guard and California Conservation Corps, as part of wildland fire response
- Ten defensible-space inspectors in the county to handle residential clearance and educate the public on defensible-space requirements
- Firefighter hand crews staffed by Cal Fire, the California National Guard and California Conservation Corps, and stationed in the county.
During fire season, there are 13 aircraft available from five different agencies. For extended firefighting operations, the county has a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Defense that makes available 30 military aircraft, according to Fletcher’s office.
The county “has the potential for devastating wildfires any time of year,” said Tony Mecham, chief of Cal Fire and the county Fire Protection District. “Our firefighters train and prepare every day to protect our local communities, but we need help from everyone to be successful. Preparing your property for wildfire and making an emergency plan before a fire occurs is a crucial step for everyone living in the county.”
The county suggests that renters and homeowners should also know their neighborhood’s wildfire risk, clear 100 feet of defensive space around their home; use fire-resistant landscaping; be prepared to evacuate within 15 minutes; register for Alert San Diego to receive cellular phone updates; and follow emergency information social media channels, including @ReadySanDiego and @CALFIRESanDiego on Twitter.
— City News Service contributed to this article