It has been a busy fire season this year. While a major incident has not occurred within the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District (RSFFPD), the state of California, including parts of San Diego County, has seen a lot of fire activity. Currently, there are seven major wildfires burning throughout the state. Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District sent two units and six firefighters to assist on the largest active fire, the Rim Fire, burning near Yosemite National Park. As of Sept. 3, the Rim Fire has burned over 235,000 acres, making it the fourth largest fire on record in California.
According to Cal Fire, this past winter was one of the driest on record, with the snowpack measuring only 17 percent of normal. That, combined with a lack of winter rain, has led to extreme dry conditions throughout the state which, in turn, have led to an increased number of large wildfires earlier in the fire season than normal. California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, climate and climate change have a huge impact on the size, severity, duration, and frequency of wildfires. The agency states that California’s three largest fires on record have all occurred within the last 10 years and the number of acres burned annually since 2000 has nearly doubled when compared to 1950-2000.
A common misconception with wildfires is that areas that have recently burned will not experience another wildfire, at least not one as devastating, for years to come. However, a recently-burned area is still susceptible to wildfires. The recent Silver Fire near Banning, CA, which destroyed 26 homes, burned almost exclusively in an area that burned in the Esperanza fire just seven years ago.
“This is the most dangerous year for fire that we’ve seen since 2007,” said James Ashcraft, RSFFPD board chair. “We are seeing low levels of plant moisture and there is a high probability that we will experience several Santa Ana events this fall. We cannot delay implementing any safety measures this year.”
Fire Chief Tony Michel agreed, saying “While we have not had a major fire incident in the District so far this year, fire season is far from over. We are anticipating a very busy fall and Santa Ana winds season, making it important for all to be prepared. The Fire District is taking steps to ensure we are ready and it is important that homeowners do the same.”
The Fire District’s Prevention staff is taking steps to help minimize the threat of wildfire in this area. The District has a fire inspector dedicated solely to inspecting properties for potential fire hazards. The focus is on the evacuation routes, vacant lots, and fuel modification zones around structures. There are a variety of fire hazards found during daily inspections which result in violations notices. From April to today, 330 properties have been sent violation notices, not including the shelter-in-place communities. The District hires an annual summer intern who focuses only on the shelter-in-place communities. Personnel also attend community events and homeowner association meetings in order to educate the public on fire prevention efforts and what they can do to keep their homes safe.
According to Bret Davidson, RSFFPD’s training officer, the Fire District prepares for wildfire season every year by focusing on training in three areas.
“We join with Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Solana Beach, and Vista Fire Departments to conduct 12 drills on the topics of communications, fire shelters, and fire behavior,” Davidson said. In addition, the RSFFPD participates in the annual San Diego County Fire Chief’s Wildland Preparedness Drill, the Southern California Training Officers Association Entrapment Program, the annual Cal Fire Operational Readiness meeting for all chief officers, live-fire training at Camp Pendleton, and a Wildland Fire Behavior class.
Property owners also play a key role in minimizing and even preventing wildfires. “Look at your property and see if there is any dead vegetation that needs to be removed,” suggests Michel. “If you have dead or diseased trees on your property, remove or thin them to reduce the hazard.” The following list highlights additional steps homeowners can take now to protect their home during future wildfires:
•Remove leaves and other debris from your roof and rain gutters.
•Maintain 100 feet of defensible space around your home.
• Thin out combustible vegetation within 30 feet of roadways and driveways.
•Replenish dead and dying vegetation with fire-resistive trees and plants.
•Keep combustible materials at least 10 feet away from propane tanks.
•Firewood and trash cans should be stored at least 30 feet away from structures.
In addition to taking steps to protect the home, it is also important to develop a plan to protect one’s family:
•Identify at least two ways out of your neighborhood.
•Make a list of important items you need to take with you if you are evacuated, including medications, important documents, and cell phone chargers.
• Make a plan for transporting and caring for your pets.
•Register your home phone and cell phone with Alert San Diego through Get Ready San Diego, San Diego County’s mass emergency notification system. This can be done online at www.readysandiego.org.
If an evacuation is ordered, doing the following will help make the process smoother and safer for you and your family:
•Gather the items on your list and place them in your vehicle.
•If there is time, move patio furniture and other combustible materials away from the house.
•Close all windows and doors, both interior and exterior.
•Evacuate early. You do not need to wait for an evacuation order. If at any time you feel threatened, leave. You may also want to start evacuating early if you have young children or dependent adults.
•Evacuate in the opposite direction of the fire.
•Stay out of the area until authorities permit re-entry.
By preparing now, you can help protect your home and your family during any future emergency. For more tips on preparing for wildfire and what to do during an emergency, visit www.rsf-fire.org.
— Submitted by the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department