Local lessons for fire preparedness


By Karen Billing

Last October, wildfires tore through several San Diego communities. Steve Shillington, Rancho Santa Fe Association director, recalls being out of town and being desperate to find any information about what was happening back at his home.

Marie Addario, Association Board president, remembers putting her china, silver and her husband’s trumpet into her swimming pool for safe-keeping before evacuating. Three days later, she came home to a chlorine-altered instrument, but her china had done fine.

The Witch Creek Fire burned 18 homes within the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant and damaged an additional 14. With that destruction in mind, the Rancho Santa Fe Association created a Fire Aftermath Committee in November tasked with finding out what the community can learn from such an event and how it can improve efforts should a wildland fire threaten the community again.

The committee’s report was released last week and its findings may be of interest to communities such as La Jolla that have not had recent wildfire experience but which have many of the same landscaping, building and access issues.

The report identified 11 action items, including conducting an annual test of the Reverse 911 notification system, assisting the fire department with educational efforts on fire prevention and utilizing the Internet to provide community updates during fires.

Recommendations to homeowners on what to do in the event of wildfire evacuation include leaving home gates open, turning gas off and keeping doors and windows locked with alarms activated.

Fuel management was among the biggest recommendations.

“This is really the most important single attempt by this association, the modification of these plants,” said Shillington.

San Diego Fire and Rescue officials have expressed similar concerns about the types of plants in La Jolla and their proximity to structures.

“We have an incredible opportunity now, because all of that brush burned, to modify the type of vegetation we have,” said Shillington of some parts of Rancho Santa Fe.

The committee also came up with three steps that individuals can take toward fire preparedness. Spears said the measures are getting a emergency pool pump, installing a home safe that can withstand fire and retaining a company that will apply fire resistant foam to property.

The board decided that a progress report would be heard on the implementation of these recommendations at its August board retreat.