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A Short Synopsis of The May 2014 Fire After Action Report

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The County of San Diego released their May 2014 Fire After Action Report covering the performance of regional services within the five-day emergency. They shared final statistics, an event timeline, a detailed review of cooperation among regional services, and identified improvements to help in future fire disasters. We have encapsulated their 109 page report into the following highlights.

Final fire statisticsMay 2014 fire aftermath

  • Approximately 26,000 acres burned
  • An estimated 65 structures, including 46 single-family homes destroyed
  • Costs incurred to contain the fires are approximately $28.5 million
  • Total projected private property damage is expected to exceed $29.8 million
  • One fatality was reported, although cause of death has not yet been determined. (Side note:  One firefighter passed away upon returning home from fighting the Cocos Fire)

Unique features of the crisis

  • Santa Anas and fires were unseasonably early
  • An unprecedented fourteen separate fires burned almost simultaneously in San Diego County


The following is a brief review of the fire timeline during the emergency. For a detailed timeline, please see the May 2014 Fire After Action Report.

  • May 13
    • Map of major May 2014 fires11:00 a.m. The Bernardo Fire starts
    • 1:09 p.m.  First Alert San Diego reverse 911 call goes out to local residents
    • 2:00 p.m. San Diego County Operational Area Emergency Operations Center (OA EOC) was activated at Level 1 in response
  • May 14
    • 9:45 a.m. The Tomahawk Fire starts near Camp Pendleton
    • 10:30 a.m. The Poinsettia Fire starts in Carlsbad
    • 12:00 a.m. The Highway Fire starts near Deer Springs Road
    • 12:12 p.m. The River Fire starts near North River Road in Oceanside
    • 1:00 p.m. A new, unnamed fire is reported near Bear Valley Parkway in Escondido.
    • 3:33 p.m. The Cocos Fire begins in San Marcos
    • 15:20 p.m.  The Aurora Fire begins in the Lakeside-El Cajon area
    • 5:43 p.m. The Freeway Fire ignites in the Camp Pendleton area
    • 7:20 p.m. The Governor proclaims a State of Emergency for San Diego County
  • May 15
    • 4:45 p.m. Las Pulgas Fire begins off I-5 on Camp Pendleton
  • May 16
    • 11:25 a.m. San Mateo Fire begins on Camp Pendleton
  • May 17
    • 8:00 a.m. A new, unnamed fire is reported near Sycamore Canyon in Santee
  • May 18
    • 2:30p.m. All evacuation orders have been lifted, fires are contained, and the San Diego County OA EOC deactivates

County-wide Preparation

Study results suggest that, in general, San Diego County was well prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. For example:

  • In January 2014, Governor Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency due to drought conditions and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare
  • CAL Fire moved to peak staffing in on March 31, 2014
  • Technological enhancements included the implementation of WebEOC, a real-time, web-based emergency management system, and AlertSanDiego, the regional mass notification.
  • CalFire Helicopter fills with water at Lake San MarcosThe San Diego County Fire Authority (SDCFA) (created 2008) had standardized volunteer fire departments in the unincorporated areas, implementing year-round, 24/7 staffing with a minimum of 2 volunteer firefighters and requiring them to receive the same level of training as the career firefighters. This allowed qualified SDCFA volunteer firefighters to engage the fires.
  • Air Assets were available due to pre-established agreements. A mixture of locally-owned aircraft, military aircraft (30), and federal and private assets were extremely helpful.
  • The Joint Information Center (JIC), in coordination with 2-1-1 San Diego provided critical emergency information directly to the public. Social and traditional media helped reach the broadest audience possible during the emergency.
  • Technological advances, including web information delivery, allowed SanDiegoCountyEmergency.com website to handle more than 2.4 million page views without any down time.
  • Although social media creates a large and sometimes inaccurate information stream, County Public Information Officers were dedicated to providing reliable information.
  • The Recovery Liaison Office provided those who suffered losses direct assistance with County services from debris removal to rebuilding, and connected fire victims to Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) for additional assistance.

Areas of Improvement

Firefighters hosing down wildfire flamesThe report also identified key areas that could be improved for the next emergency:

1. Increase the “Call When Needed” aircraft budget from $250,000 to $750,000. This will improve the County’s ability to pre-stage firefighting aircraft during extended periods of “red flag” conditions. It also suggested officials consider the purchase of a third firefighting helicopter.

2. To facilitate timely information exchange and collaboration among agencies, the County should work with CAL FIRE, County Fire Authority and city representatives to provide Incident Management Teams with clear information on the role of Office of Emergency Services, the OA EOC and local Emergency Operations Centers.

3. Work with CAL FIRE to increase the speed and frequency of fire perimeter map updates.

4. Double, from 200 to 400, the number of County employees available to work as Disaster Service Workers (2-1-1 operators, shelter managers and workers, and Local Assistance Center Teams).

5. Increase the ability to reach vulnerable populations with disaster information by improving multi-lingual services and promoting Accessible AlertSanDiego for deaf, blind and the hearing impaired.

More information

For more information about the May 2014 fires, download the May 2014 Fire After Action Report (109 page PDF)
Download the Family Disaster Plan and Personal Survival Handbook. Developed by the experts in San Diego County, the handbook is loaded with great information to help you and your family prepare for a disaster!