Fire risk above normal this season, Rancho Santa Fe fire chief reports


By Karen Billing

Five years removed from the Witch Creek Fire, the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District is preparing for the risk of another devastating blaze coming through the community.

“Right now we are in the height of fire season. This year we are expected to have an above normal large fire season in Southern California,” Fire Chief Tony Michel told the Rancho Santa Fe Association board on Sept. 20. “We have had more fire starts this year in California than ever before in recent history.”

Several elements are in play to heighten the risk for a wildland fire event, Michel said.

Last year Rancho Santa Fe had more grass fires than ever and the fuels that burned in the Witch Creek Fire are coming back. Additionally, because there was a lot of rain early on in the year, there is a lot more grass crop.

“We are at critical fuel levels,” said Michel, noting the level of moisture within the fuels is at 60 percent, which means fire starts much more easily.

Also amping up the risk is the extremely dry offshore Santa Ana winds that come at this time of year.

“Fall Santa Ana winds really expedite what fire season is in Southern California,” Michel said. “They really dry things up and can foster fire.”

Michel said the fire district has been very aggressive about fire prevention. The district has been working on a strong weed abatement program, roadway clearing and creating buffers in fire corridors such as the San Dieguito River and Escondido Creek. The district has also done eucalyptus grove clearing in the Del Dios Gorge area where fires can travel from east to west.

The district has also sent letters out to homeowners about the removal of dead and dying trees that can serve as fuel during fire events. RSF Association President Roxana Foxx said she and some of her neighbors have received letters and they are very polite and professional.

Michel said they have worked very hard to ensure that community stakeholders are involved in prevention with brush abatement and tree removal.

“We have to be aware how our individual properties affect the entire community,” RSF Association Vice President Anne Feighner said.

Brush abatement companies are listed on the fire district’s website at

  1. Information on disaster preparedness and planning is also available online.