CAL FIRE Warns: Don’t let your guard down


Your regional firefighters have a message for you: Don’t Let Your Guard Down.
Yes, we enjoyed unseasonably-cool weather through much of August and September. Yes, there have been relatively few wildfires this year in San Diego County. But that can change, especially when Santa Ana winds kick up in the autumn.
“The biggest piece of advice I would give folks is: Don’t get complacent,” says CAL FIRE Capt. Isaac Sanchez, the department’s spokesperson for San Diego County. “October is actually a high risk season for fires. We still have hot, dry weather coming ahead of us.”
On Aug. 21, the Eclipse Fire broke out near Campo, and 175 firefighters responded, containing it to 200 acres. The county’s largest fire so far this year was the Gate Fire, which burned 2,056 acres in late May. That fire, in Jamul, took six days to contain.
The Gate Fire followed a scenario that fire officials warned about early this year: the winter’s wet weather promoted the growth of grasses, which provide flashy fuel for wildfire. The Gate Fire broke out in dry grass and spread quickly.
“With the Gate Fire, it was 10 acres before an engine ever showed up,” Sanchez noted. “When you have uninterrupted fields that are largely grass, that’s a concern.
“There are several factors that influence the type of fire we will have,” he said. “Those are fuel, weather and topography. Where and when it starts, the fire will be influenced by one or all of those factors. When you have all three line up, the fire can grow larger.
“What we can’t predict is ignition. We don’t know where and when it will start. That’s unknowable.”
Sanchez said it is important for CAL FIRE to beef up staffing when weather conditions favor ignition. Quick detection makes a big difference, because the sooner a fire is reported the faster firefighters get to it.
And it is important for property owners to do their part by maintaining defensible space around their homes.
County Fire and CAL FIRE Unit Chief Tony Mecham reminded everyone that defensible space can help determine whether a home survives a fire.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of people doing 100-foot clearance around the structure,” Mecham said in a news conference during the Gate Fire. “We have over 40,000 structures that are in high-risk wildland areas in San Diego County. On any given day, all 40,000 of those homes are threatened.”
He said that when firefighters arrive in a neighborhood where several homes are threatened, they have to make quick decisions about which ones are defensible.
“I can tell you, if you do not do the clearance around your homes, I do not care to risk the lives of my firefighters to save your home, if you have not done your part to give our folks a fighting chance,” Mecham said.