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Supervisors hear two-year progress report on post-fire actions

by John Walden |

Local area institutes fuel reduction program and agency coordination operation after disastrous fire season.

Posted at thevillagenews.com:
11/11/2005 3:29:53 PM by Joe Naiman to the Village News Correspondent

On October 25, 2003, the largest wildfire in California history was started. On October 25, 2005, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors utilized the anniversary to receive a progress report on actions taken to make the region safer since the October 2003 wildfires.

“Our work in preparing for disaster will always be an ongoing process,” said Walt Ekard, the county’s Chief Administrative Officer. “The county has continued to improve fire safety in the unincorporated area.”

The Cedar, Paradise, Otay and Roblar II fires burned nearly 384,000 acres in the unincorporated area of the county and destroyed more than 2,100 homes, not including homes lost within the Poway and San Diego city limits. More than 2,800 firefighters worked to control the blazes and close to $37 million was spent to fight the fires, which added to the cost of approximately $450 million in structural damage and $30 million in agricultural damage. Sixteen human lives were lost as well as numerous animal lives.

Immediate response and recovery action included setting up and operating local assistance centers, damage assessment, air quality monitoring, erosion control, vector control, debris removal, park reconstruction and home permitting and rebuilding. Although insurance and other issues have prevented the rebuilding of some of the homes, 87 percent of the destroyed homes have been rebuilt or are in the process of being rebuilt.

Even as immediate needs were being handled, the county began exploring long-term measures for improved fire prevention and fire safety. The county had taken some previous actions — in November 2002 the county declared a state of emergency resulting from the bark beetle infestation which had killed a significant percentage of pine trees and in August 2003 the county had received a report on mitigation strategies to reduce wildfire risks and had authorized the CAO to seek additional state and Federal funding for those recommendations — but in December 2003 the supervisors directed the development of actions and recommendations specifically on the county’s response to the October 2003 fires. In December 2003 the supervisors also gave direction to evaluate the performance of the Regional Communications System in the fires and to explore all possible funding options to acquire, staff, and maintain a fire and life safety helicopter.

The report from the CAO was received in January 2004. In February 2004 the supervisors appropriated funding to acquire a helicopter, and in June 2004 the county approved use of Indian gaming trust fund money to purchase a second helicopter (subsequent funding actions following acquisition of the helicopters include capital improvements to support a firefighting helicopter at Fallbrook Community Airpark and a procurement for spare parts and components). Adoptions to the Weed Abatement Ordinance (which included a change in that ordinance’s name to reflect other combustible vegetation) and the Biological Mitigation Ordinance were approved in February 2004 and March 2004. In March 2004 the county authorized an upgrade to its emergency system capabilities to include Reverse 911. The Fire Safety and Fuels Reduction Program was established in June 2004, and that month’s actions also included amendments to the county’s Fire Code and Building Code to increase wildland protection as well as the approval of the 2004-05 budget which included funds for Regional Communications System enhancement. The supervisors have been working in conjunction with the Local Agency Formation Commission on the possible reorganization of fire districts; in February 2005 the LAFCO board voted to initiate the reorganization process which would include creating a new district to cover the entire unincorporated area of the county (the supervisors provided the required initiating resolution in April 2005) and in August 2005 LAFCO accepted an alternative proposal for a phased reorganization of fire agencies. In June 2005 the San Diego area’s 211 line, which allows for the dissemination of disaster and health information without utilizing the 911 line which is used to notify service providers of an emergency, made its public debut. In September 2005 the supervisors authorized the negotiation of contracts to provide year-round fire protection at nine California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection stations (including the DeLuz station) and provide contracts for fire protection to seven volunteer fire departments (including the DeLuz Volunteer Fire Department) and to ten other agencies.