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San Diego County is Ready to Respond to Wildfires, Encourage Residents to Prepare



San Diego County is prepared, and ready to respond, to wildfires. This morning Chair Nathan Fletcher along with Supervisor Joel Anderson, CAL FIRE/San Diego County Fire Protection District, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Fire-Rescue and other regional partners laid-out their plans for responding quickly to wildfires, highlighted recent investments in wildfire prevention and urged residents to proactively protect their homes.

“We are ready to respond to wildfires,” said Chair Fletcher, who also serves as President of the San Diego County Fire Protection District. “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.”

Chair Fletcher is also Chair of the Unified Disaster Council and says investments in fire prevention and response are paramount to the County’s core responsibilities to its citizens. 

“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,” Chair Fletcher continued. “Going forward, I will continue to work with my colleagues and regional leaders to explore more options to increase protections for our region.” 

Since 2003, the County has put $575 million into its response capacity. This past week the Board of Supervisors invested more than $2.5 million in roadside vegetation management. Other recent investments include:

  • In the most recent budget, increased staffing and funding to convert three remote fire stations in the San Diego County Fire Protection District from 2 firefighters to 3 firefighters, ensuring all County of San Diego fire teams meet the staffing threshold.

  • Wildfire Analyst (Research Data Specialist II) position staffed in San Diego (new for 2021); assists with fire risk forecasting for wildland fires in San Diego County.

  • One California National Guard crew and one California Conservation Corps crew staffed up for wildland fire response

  • Continued County investment in fire risk reduction, public education, Residential Knox Box program.

  • 10 defensible space inspectors in San Diego County, inspecting residential clearance and educating the public on defensible space requirements. 

  • New this year: Firefighter hand crews staffed by firefighters from CAL FIRE, the California National Guard and the California Conservation Corps all stationed in San Diego County. Firefighter hand crews cut lines around fires, creating a perimeter that keeps a fire from spreading. 

During the fire season in San Diego County there are 13 aircraft available from five different agencies; and for extended firefights there is a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Defense that makes 30 military aircraft available too. For the ground attack there are 18 Engines from the U.S. Forest Service; 27 Engines from CAL FIRE / San Diego County Fire Protection District; 3 Water Tenders from U.S. Forest Service; 4 CAL FIRE Bulldozers and 12 hand crews. When surge capacity is needed, San Diego County Fire has an additional 23 Fire Engines and 10 water tenders.       

Fire preparedness and response in San Diego County is about more than funding and equipment, it also requires regional collaboration amongst many entities, and leading the charge are the brave first responders from CAL FIRE / San Diego County Fire Protection District.  

“San Diego County has the potential for devastating wildfires any time of year. Our firefighters train and prepare every day to protect our local communities, but we need help from everyone to be successful,” said Tony Mecham, Chief, CAL FIRE/San Diego County Fire Protection District. “Preparing your property for wildfire and making an emergency plan before a fire occurs is a crucial step for everyone living in the County.” 

In 2020, California experienced six of the largest and most destructive wildfires in state history, with over four-million acres burned. The Valley Fire that burned southeast of Alpine in 2020 destroyed 30 homes and forced over 1,400 residents from their homes. This year, firefighters in California have already responded to more than 4,600 wildfires, which have burned more than 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. 

Seventy-nine percent of unincorporated areas in San Diego County fall in high or very high fire hazard severity zones. Supervisor Anderson, who represents District 2, which includes many communities that are susceptible to fires, is a proponent of residents taking action to protect their home.      

“As a long-time resident of Alpine, I have witnessed first-hand how devastating wildfires can be. Wildfires do not discriminate in their destruction, so it’s important that all San Diegans, and especially those in my district, make a wildfire preparedness plan,” Supervisor Anderson added, “I’d also like to thank my colleagues at the Board of Supervisors for voting to allocate more funding to wildfire preparedness, which is crucial for the safety of our backcountry citizens.”

To defend against wildfire risk, renters and homeowners in San Diego County should:

Many partner agencies that work in concert with CAL FIRE / San Diego County Fire Protection District were on hand during the press conference held at Gillespie Field on Friday morning, including: City of San Diego Fire Rescue’s Chief Stowell; San Diego County Sheriff’s Undersheriff Kelly Martinez; San Diego County Office of Emergency Service’s Director Jeff Toney; Cleveland National Forest (U.S. Forest Service) Chief Mike Nobles; 211 San Diego’s Director of Emergency Services Ray Chaney; American Red Cross Southern California Region’s Chief Executive Officer Sean Mahoney and representatives from SDG&E.  

Wildfire Response Collaboration with San Diego County Sheriff’s Department 

Every San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy is trained on fire response. During fire season the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department works with the Office of Emergency Services and Red Cross to maintain an up-to-date list of evacuation points and shelters. During evacuations the Sheriff's Department is responsible for maintaining ingress and egress routes for emergency vehicles, establishing perimeter control, keeping unauthorized vehicles and pedestrians out of the involved area, conducting evaluations, and establishing security patrols. Much of this requires a mutual aid response with local and state law enforcement resources.

“Fires are extremely unpredictable, erratic and fast moving. Be ready now by preparing your emergency kit. If evacuation orders are made, leave early for your safety and so firefighters can do their job. Plan, prepare and stay aware,” said Kelly Marinez, Undersheriff, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. 

Wildfire Response Collaboration with San Diego County Office of Emergency Services 

The San Diego County Office of Emergency Services works behind the scenes at the County’s Emergency Operations Center to support firefighters, sheriff's department and other emergency service agencies in the field. They coordinate logistics for supplies needed during a disaster and work closely with regional partners to provide services that help residents.  For example they coordinate shelter operations with the American Red Cross of Southern California and work closely with 211 San Diego to make sure information is available to the public. They also play an instrumental role in assisting with educating residents about family disaster planning and making services such as Alert San Diego available.  

Wildfire Response Collaboration with SDG&E

Since 2007, SDG&E has been implementing infrastructure hardening measures to protect people and property from utility-related wildfires. These measures have included replacing wood poles with fire-resistant steel poles, undergrounding utilities lines in the high fire risk areas and maintaining more than 455,000 trees as part of its vegetation management program. The Company also utilizes a fleet of aerial assets to assist with aerial inspections, patrols and fire response. The fleet includes an Erickson Air Crane, known as SkyMaverick, that can hold up to 2,650 gallons of water or fire suppressant and a UH-60 Blackhawk that holds 850 gallons of water or fire suppressant and refills in 45 seconds. The firefighting assets are contracted to be stationed at Gillespie Field year-round for rapid response dispatch by CAL FIRE when needed.

SDG&E also has a utility first Fire Science & Climate Adaptation Department with four full-time meteorologists that are constantly monitoring weather conditions that could lead to wildfire events. The Company has also integrated a variety of operational and situational awareness measures to help prepare for and prevent wildfires like it's premier weather network of 220 weather stations that provides reads on temperature, humidity and wind every 30 seconds; 105 high-definition cameras to determine wildfire location accurately and quickly; and new artificial intelligence based predictive models that increase the accuracy of weather forecasts, helping prevent wildfires and mitigate Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) impacts on communities.