2007 San Diego Fires

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San Diego Fires

2003 Cedar Fire

The 2003 Cedar fire killed 15 people in San Diego County, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and burned nearly 300,000 acres. It was the largest urban wildfire in California’s history. At the time, some neighborhoods in the region didn’t have evacuation plans. In some cases, emergency workers mulled over evacuations as homes were being consumed by blazes. Firefighters in San Diego couldn't examine or battle fires from the air at night.


2007 Witch Creek Fire Harris Fire


The 2007 Witch Creek and Harris Fires killed 7 people consumed 1,200 homes and scorched almost 300,000 acres. During those blazes, firefighting resources were relatively scarce.


2014 San Diego County wildfires


Firefighters Use Air Fleet To Aid Wildfire Ground Battle http://www.kpbs.org/news/2014/jun/01/firefighters-use-air-fleet-snuff-out-wildfires/


1 person killed 62 homes destroyed 26,050 acres burned


September, ValleyFire

  1. ValleyFire [update] The fire is now 9,850 acres and 1% contained, 11 structures destroyed. Please see updated evacuation map from County of San Diego http://sdcountyemergency.com and never hesitate to evacuate if you do not feel safe. https://twitter.com/CALFIRESANDIEGO/status/1302823713998426113 https://www.sdcountyemergency.com/content/oesemergency/en-us/updates/0082.html

effects on business

Wildfires lay waste to flower harvest, 1,630 acres believed to be in burn areas http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071027/news_1mi27flower.html

news, continuing

75 years of nature's splendor. San Diego County's prized backcountry is emerging from a rough patch. The Cedar fire in 2003 tore through the Cuyamaca Mountains, and state budget cuts are slowing recovery efforts. http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20081012/news_1m12parks.html

Need is still great even with donors'help. Most of the millions given for county fire relief spent. http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20081012/news_1m12donate.html

Formerly revered trees get bad rap after wildfires. Eucalyptuses are nothing more than multistory matchsticks ready to burst into flames when Santa Ana winds strike. The neighbor's pine? Pretty. Pretty dangerous, that is. And that sycamore sucks up a zillion gallons of costly water. http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080906/news_1n6trees.html

Inmates discover new careers in firefighting, help cut costs. State saves more than $80 million a year with plan. http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080817/news_1n17fire.html


IBrush removal was brushed off. For a long time, city officials knew uncleared land was a huge fire hazard http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/reports/watchdog/20071230-9999-1n30brush.html

No fuel, no embers mean no damage. Fire officials stress that formula to developers and homeowner associations as the key to flame resistance. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-fireside23dec23,0,1222198.story?coll=la-home-center

Retracing flames' destructive path. Scientists and officials are studying the Witch blaze in an effort to better understand the behavior of future fires. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-fireanalysis23dec23,0,2890669.story?coll=la-home-center

Tree removal credited for saving Palomar Mountain http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/11/19/news/top_stories/13_52_7511_18_07.txt

Hardly any fire victims sleeping at tent city. Churches of Christ banners are expected to arrive soon, Cremeans said. In the meantime, the only visible logo is Blackwater's. http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071110/news_1m10tent.html

Throng of out-of-towners took part in relief efforts, Red Cross spent millions accommodating nonresident volunteers during wildfires http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071110/news_6m10redcross.html

Survival tactics that worked http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/11/04/homes/17_58_1811_1_07.txt

When Katrina struck in August 2005, FEMA had only 36 contracting officers on staff. The agency now employs nearly 200 procurement professionals http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=38469&dcn=todaysnews

Extreme makeover, Spending the night at an evacuation site means a lesson in organization http://www.sdcitybeat.com/cms/story/detail/?id=6305

Ramona residents stream back to town http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/10/27//news/top_stories//21_38_4810_26_07.txt

Ramonans home after irksome day at roadblock http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20071026-9999-1n26ramona.html

Bush's visit cheers some, irks others, The president's motorcade delayed homecomings http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20071026-9999-1n26bush.html

Aerial response delays blamed on Santa Ana winds, bad timing http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20071026-9999-1n26aircraft.html

All six fire planes in the air over California http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2007/10/airforce_maffs_fires_071025/

As Calif. fires burned, copters grounded http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1110AP_Wildfires_Grounded_Aircraft.html?source=mypi

a visibly upset Hunter said as he entered the center that state fire officials were refusing to OK the use of National Guard C-130 air tankers that were sitting on tarmac ready to go http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/10/25/news/sandiego/5_01_5310_24_07.txt

CalFire tied up military pilots in red tape http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/10/25/opinion/commentary/6_12_0810_25_07.txt

Bush to tour fire-ravaged areas today http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-fires26oct26,0,3167574.story?coll=la-home-center

Bush has mastered the political response to the wildfires http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/24/AR2007102402617.html?hpid=topnews

Former fire chief defies order to evacuate home http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071025/news_1n25bowman.html

Exclusive homes emerge unscathed as fire-protection concept is tested http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071025/news_1n25stay.html

Criticism over issue of air support builds http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071025/news_1n25aircraft.html

Evacuation dissenters: Heroes in disguise? http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071025/news_1mi25jenkin1.html

Canyon dwellers not joining exodus, Illegal immigrants fear the exposure http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071025/news_7m25migrants.html

Nearby communities in Poway are worlds apart, One neighborhood razed; one untouched http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071025/news_1mi25poway.html

1 million fled fires? As the smoke clears, the numbers shrink http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-evacuation25oct25,0,6746893.story?coll=la-home-center



Nearly half of spotters unavailable when fires began. Others had alternate tasks, Cal Fire document shows http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071129/news_1n29spot.html

Bulldozer scar follows fire. In a side effect from the wildfires that threatens to leave a permanent environmental scar, a bulldozer line cut by firefighters through an open-space preserve knocked out part of a historic canal, a preserve supporter said Tuesday. http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/11/21/news/top_stories/1_04_0911_20_07.txt

State details aerial response to California wildfires http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/state/20071117-1839-ca-wildfires-groundedaircraft.html

privatized disaster services http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/110207E.shtml

Flaming the federal fire response http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/10/31/EDD7T3CIS.DTL

As the Smoke Clears in San Diego: Republicans Complain About Imagined Complainers http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2007/10/as_the_smoke_cl.html

'04 Calif report urged better cooperation with military in fires http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/10/30/state/n000202D54.DTL&type=politics

The fires next time: Hard lessons learned again http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/10/29/perspective/11_04_4010_27_07.txt

Letters to the editor, October 27, 2007 Fighting about federal firefighting aircraft http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071027/news_lz1e27letters.html

Bush praises California response http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/bush-praises-california-response-2007-10-27.html

Katrina comparisons are a different class of wrong, So much is different, and so many people want to overlook the differences. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lopez26oct26,0,6570862.column?coll=la-home-center

Heed the insiders, Why state foresters fault U.S. wildfire policy http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071026/news_lz1ed26bottom.html

Blackwater in Potrero

The real story was a Potrero in need

I was stunned and mortified when I read the Oct. 30 story, “Potrero pulls together,” by Anne Krueger. When I spoke to her on Monday (Oct. 29), I presumed that she was in Potrero to gather information on the valiant efforts of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and the volunteers who have been responsible for supporting the needs of Potrero, Tecate, and assisting Barrett and Dulzura residents.

Instead, she wrote a political piece that completely invalidated these people's efforts and barely touched on Ron Spinneit's loss, and ignored others whose losses were as great.

These days of tragedy and loss are not about Blackwater. Most of us have had no time for personal grudges, politics or recalls while we sought to help others or be helped.

Many of us are in the basest of survival modes and some of us don't know when we'll feel safe again or when life will return to “normal”.

I cannot and will not take credit for the incredible efforts that were ignored in the article. While the media was reporting that Potrero has been evacuated 100 percent, approximately 350 residents could not leave and needed assistance. The Potrero CERT and numerous volunteers achieved that.

I was not involved as a volunteer until Wednesday (Oct. 31) while the coordinated, dynamic CERT had become established.

I found out later that groups and individuals had gathered up food and supplies and tried to deliver them to Potrero but were turned away because the roads were closed. Why weren't they escorted through? Having had limited phone contact with phone lines down and cell towers damaged, many of us had no idea so much of an effort was being denied us. Although I have no control over the media and what is in print, I wish to extend my apologies to those wonderful people who were slighted or insulted by the article that appeared.

If anyone has anything they wish to donate to our area, or want to know what is needed, please contact the Potrero Volunteer Fire Department at 478-5900.

JAN HEDLUN Potrero Planning Group member

Blackwater's other side

Understandably, after the fires, Potrero residents were thankful for the supplies and food brought to them by a Blackwater employee driving a Hummer, like Santa in his sleigh.

Quite a contrast to the residents of Moyock, N.C., the hometown of Blackwater headquarters, who according to the Oct. 6 Union-Tribune article stated, “they fear if they are too critical of the company, it might retaliate. . . .”

Unfortunately, living near Blackwater training facilities is not like a scene from a Christmas story. The reality is that living near a simulated war zone training facility involves incessant gunfire, floodlights beaming at night, vehicles constantly patrolling streets, additional traffic, helicopters and more – disruption of quiet neighborhoods with citizens afraid to speak out.



defying evacuation orders, fighting on your own


One risky roundup. Man returned to ranch to tend to bison herd during wildfires http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071124/news_1mi24buff.html

Neighbors call him 'hero' for saving homes in fire http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071104/news_1n4hero.html

Son took huge risk but saved mother's home http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20071028-9999-1n28barrett.html

He refused to leave, then got lucky, Rancho Bernardo resident -- and his new home -- survived the fire after he defied mandatory evacuation orders. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-standoff26oct26,0,3310190.story?coll=la-home-center

Good old boys fill gap in area fire protection http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071026/news_1mi26jenkins.html

“If they do not want to leave their home, it's their call,” said Jan Caldwell, Sheriff's Department spokeswoman. “If they don't want to go, it's not a crime.” http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071026/news_1n26behind.html

Fiery home invaders

Many houses in San Diego County's Witch fire burned from the inside out after wind-blown embers wafted through small openings and ignited the structures.

December 23, 2007 Before dawn on Oct. 22, the Witch fire stormed through the chaparral-covered hills of north San Diego County toward Ron and Carol Bedell's home.

As they fled through smoke and ash to escape the flames, the couple from Poway were optimistic that their new multimillion-dollar home would survive. It had been built to the highest fire standards, with a slate roof and tempered windows. And the Bedells were careful to keep brush cleared to 150 feet.

About 5 a.m., the fire roared up to their property, blew past and moved on, leaving the home intact. But eight hours later, with the wildfire burning miles away, their house caught fire -- the victim of smoldering embers that wafted through the dog door.

Fire officials believe that embers driven by raging winds through small openings or against exposed wood were responsible for igniting a majority of the 1,125 homes leveled by the Witch fire, the most destructive in California this year. In many cases the embers smoldered for hours before causing homes to burn.

A home "has to have a weakness for it to burn," said Ernylee Chamlee, California's chief of wildland fire prevention engineering. "It's less random, or a case of luck, than you might think."

In the Bedells' case, a garage wall caught fire, but firefighters put out the blaze before it could consume the entire house. At other homes, the weak points were attic vents, broken windows or barrel tiles with openings that allowed embers to ignite a roof. Most of the homes destroyed in this year's fires burned from the inside out, according to firefighters, a clear sign that the fires were caused by embers within, not flames attacking the outside walls.

An analysis of the Witch fire's pattern of destruction points to deficiencies in long-held beliefs about building in fire-prone areas. Fire-resistant walls and roofs are helpful, and brush clearance is essential. But alone they are insufficient in the face of millions of burning embers flying horizontally more than a mile ahead of the flames.

Of 497 structures that burned in unincorporated areas of San Diego County during the Witch fire, more than half had fire-resistant walls and roofs, a Times analysis of government data showed. Information on construction materials has not been compiled for neighborhoods inside the cities of San Diego and Poway, but senior fire officials estimate that well over 75% of the destroyed homes had fire-resistant exteriors.

Truly protecting a house, fire officials say, requires more rigorous steps to close off the smallest openings through which burning debris might enter.

The ember phenomenon also raises a public policy dilemma. With the Witch fire, firefighters conducted one of the largest evacuations in California history, and barred residents from their neighborhoods for days as they continued to put out hot spots.

Officials cite their aggressive evacuation policy as a primary reason that so few lives were lost in the fire.

But an untold number of homes were saved by people who refused to evacuate or sneaked back in to their neighborhoods before evacuations were lifted.

The Bedells' home in Poway was saved only because a neighbor was around to spot the flames and call firefighters.

"Obviously, if my neighbor had not violated the curfew, my home would have gone down," Ron Bedell said.

Firefighters conceded that residents who ignored evacuation orders played a significant role in saving homes, dousing smoldering embers themselves with garden hoses and summoning firefighters when flames erupted.

"We wanted them to leave, but we can't force them," said Jon Canavan, division chief of Poway's Fire Department. "And a lot of people saved their own homes. . . . When an area is evacuated we no longer have the eyes and ears of people who live there and say: 'Hey, my house is burning.' "

But he and other fire officials say there are too many pitfalls to allow people to stay or re-enter prematurely.

Burned neighborhoods are dangerous places after a fire, officials say. Cinders can still be smoldering, dangerous debris is everywhere, and smoke is heavy in the air. House fires might break out when a resident is sleeping or not paying attention. Gas lines may be ruptured and live power lines down. And busy firefighters do not want to be diverted from fighting the fire to save citizens who ignore evacuation orders.

"If it comes down to lives or the house, we're going to choose the lives," said Maurice Luque, spokesman for San Diego's fire department. "Until it is safe, you don't allow people back in. . . . We don't want to risk public safety for a house."

Until recently, there has not been much of an economic imperative to study the behavior of wildfires as they storm into suburbs. The flames make for dramatic news images, but their devastation is eclipsed by that of other natural disasters. Home insurer payouts nationally for fire losses are a small fraction of those from hurricanes, tornadoes and winter storms. And less than 1% of the 400,000 residential fires each year in the United States are the result of wildfires.

But the stakes are rising as local governments continue to let developers build in fire-prone areas. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimated in 2003 that more than 3 million homes in California -- the largest chunk in Southern California -- are at "significant risk" from wildfires. And the number is growing. A 2002 federal report said nearly 40% of all home construction in the West was pushing into wild lands.

In 2005, California began requiring homeowners to clear brush and weeds within 100 feet of their houses in fire-prone areas.

And under new state building code requirements to take effect next year in those same areas, builders must take measures to prevent ember intrusion in all houses they build.

Some materials that have traditionally been viewed as fire-safe have come under new scrutiny. The barrel tile roofs that developers have turned to as an alternative to wood shake, for example, also can play host to embers. Because the tiles are arched, they leave flammable roofing materials exposed on the bottom-most row.

Some homes have a piece of tile that covers those holes, called a bird stop. Many do not.

"I've seen houses with embers stacked in those openings," said Dave Hillman, Cal Fire's chief of law enforcement and fire prevention. "I call them catcher's mitts."

Under the new rules, developers will be required to close the gaps under barrel tiles with mortar or bird stops, screen attic vents, cover eaves, close off the underside of wood decks and install tempered glass in all windows so they don't shatter in the heat.

The counties of San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura already require similar measures, but the city of San Diego does not, according to Cal Fire. Rancho Bernardo, one of the Witch fire's hardest-hit areas, is part of the city of San Diego.

In a report on the fire, San Diego County official Kenneth J. Miller II concluded that the upgraded fire and building codes were "instrumental in saving homes" in county territory.

Much of the research behind the new codes stems from pioneering work by Jack Cohen, a fire scientist with the U.S. Forest Service. Cohen trekked a decade ago to Canada's Northwest Territories, where officials allowed researchers to set sections of forest ablaze with flamethrowers and watch what happened to simulated houses they had built.

Cohen found that enough heat was generated to ignite wooden walls he erected 33 feet away from the forest's edge, but not walls at 66 feet or 98 feet away. This was a critical observation: "Regardless of how big that wildfire is out there, how big the smoke columns and flames, by and large the potential for ignition of a house is determined by its immediate surroundings."

In other words, buffer zones can keep flames out of reach. He suggested that homeowners eliminate highly flammable materials within 100 feet of their houses. But that still left the question of how to defend against flying embers. While it long has been known that burning debris landing on a wood shingle roof was likely to ignite a home, Cohen said scientists used to underestimate the number of other ways embers could breach a home's defenses, particularly in high winds.

Then they started studying why some homes ignited hours after a flame front had moved through. The answer, in many cases, was long-smoldering embers.

That's what played out on Cloudesly Drive in Rancho Bernardo. The Witch fire passed through at 4:30 a.m. Four hours later, with the wildfire long gone, San Diego Fire Battalion Chief Gerry Brewster came upon four homes on the same street that suddenly erupted in flames.

He suspected that a change in the wind sparked embers smoldering in a cavity of one of the houses, and the fire quickly spread to the others.

"That little change in the wind, and we had houses taking off."


planes and choppers

Tanker a success, but some wonder why it hasn't been used before http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/11/06/news/californian/4_01_2211_5_07.txt

Grounded military helicopters blamed on lack of 'spotters' http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20071103-9999-1n3looking.html

Why aerial attack didn't get off ground as planned http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20071103-9999-1n3aircraft.html

A Navy chopper crew tackles a wildfire http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-pilot27oct27,1,2845631.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Getting aircraft up and running is complex, Winds, bureaucracy delayed military aid http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20071027/news_1n27aircraft.html

Hawaii Mars Flying Tanker http://www.airliners.net/search/photo.search?airlinesearch=TimberWest%20(Flying%20Tankers)&distinct_entry=true

State calls in Mars flying boat to help fight south state fires, 60-year-old aircraft is expected to drop 'huge wet blanket' on wildfires http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_7276500?nclick_check=1

In an emergency, it's hard to know what to grab, so prepare ahead

In an emergency, it's hard to know what to grab, so prepare ahead http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/11/25/homes/18_11_3611_22_07.txt