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San Diego Spotlight

Wildfire at Your Doorstep? 9 Ways Firefighters Have Been Working to Protect You

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Witch Creek Fire

Witch Creek Wildfire image courtesy of Poway.org.

“It can’t happen here.” That’s what people thought in the 2007 wildfires when Santa Ana winds, blowing in excess of 50 mph, caused 500,000+ to be evacuated, 17 deaths, 372,000 acres to be burned and 2,454 buildings to be destroyed – many within the suburbs.

According to a recent San Diego Union Tribune article, firefighters and other emergency services personnel throughout San Diego County have been using lessons learned from the 2003 and 2007 San Diego wildfires, and also from the very recent Northern California fires to strengthen their resources and skills to fight the next wildfires.

  • In 2008, San Diego County formed a Fire Authority to oversee 16 stations covering more than 1.5 million acres. The network of backcountry fire departments is now under one command.
  • Fire dispatchers across the County have adopted a uniform communication system, so each knows what the others are doing.
  • Added eleven new brush rigs – fire engines adapted to fight wildfires.
  • Added three helicopters.
  • Installed more than 100 new weather stations in the backcountry to allow firefighters to track the speed, direction, and intensity of fires in real time.
  • Interagency cooperation: dozens of fire departments/agencies now work and train together.
  • Agencies in the west send units to backcountry fires, to stop them before they reach the cities.
  • Contracts allow many as 30 Navy and Marine Corps aerial units to combat local fires without heavy paperwork.
  • San Diego Fire-Rescue helicopters can fly after sundown.

San Diego Gas & Electric has also been working with the County to make significant improvements:

  • Make available a Skycrane “Sun Bird” helitanker, which carries the equivalent of five fire engines of water.
  • Replace wood poles throughout the backcountry with fire-hardened steel poles and undergrounding 100 miles of power lines in the Cleveland National Forest.
  • Disable automatic switching devices in fire-sensitive areas and require manual inspections before power is restored.
  • Automatically cut power to backcountry areas in high winds during critical fire weather.
  • Share wind speed, humidity, and temperature information from 170 small weather stations atop power poles with emergency personnel.