County approves plan for CFA, Cal Fire partnership

By City News Service

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to create a partnership between the County Fire Authority and Cal Fire as the first step toward forming an integrated fire protection system.

The plan will lead to the creation of a Joint Powers Authority that the supervisors hope will attract participation from the myriad fire agencies in San Diego’s unincorporated areas.

The supervisors have been working on consolidating fire protection for the backcountry since devastating wildfires struck in 2003 and 2007. The several fires that started during periods of strong October Santa Ana winds those years all started in rural areas and spread into populated neighborhoods.

Passage of the plan means that Howard Windsor, the chief of Cal Fire operations in the region, becomes the fire chief of San Diego County.

The plan also shifts authority and certain personnel from the county Department of Planning and Land Use to the Public Safety Group.

Stephen Whitburn, who is running against Ron Roberts in the November runoff election, said the supervisors were moving in the right direction but have yet to spend “real money” on fire protection.

The plan is like “moving chairs around on deck on the Titanic,” Whitburn said.

Supervisor Bill Horn said the county spends $15.5 million on fire services, plus $5 million extra to implement the plan and upgrade rural fire stations - just part of $517 million spent annually by fire agencies across the area.