Mayor says fire threat is ‘very real’


By Joe Britton

City News Service

The monster wildfire burning north of Los Angeles is a “stark reminder” that San Diego needs to be ready for such a disaster here, Mayor Jerry Sanders warned on Wednesday, Sept. 2.

“It’s a stark reminder that the threat of Southern California wildfires is very real,” Sanders said. “And since fires know no boundaries and can strike at any time, the city has been working hard to prepare for the region’s next wildfires.”

Sanders said the city cleared 529 acres of brush last year, and is on target to thin another 590 acres this year.

The mayor said the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department has also increased its reserve engine fleet from 16 during the 2007 wildfires, to 22 today.

Joined by Assistant Fire Chief Javier Mainar at a news conference at the SDFRD’s Air Operations Base at Montgomery Field, Sanders also touted the city’s recent acquisition of a second full-time firefighting helicopter, Copter 2.

“Copter 1 and Copter 2 have proven to be invaluable resources for initial attack to keep those wildfires small and from getting out of control,” Mainar said.

Mainar said San Diego’s firefighting helicopters will be staffed around-the-clock through the fall, and if necessary, into the winter months if the hot, dry weather continues.

Mainar said the SDFRD is better prepared to deal with wildfire than in 2007, when three separate blazes scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in the North County, destroyed 1,300 homes and forced the largest fire evacuation in the nation’s history.

“There is no fire department in the world that has the resources to protect every house, every neighborhood, from the kinds of fires we are seeing in Los Angeles, or the kinds of fires our community experienced in 2003 and 2007,” he said. “But, I can tell you that your fire department, San Diego Fire-Rescue, is far better prepared today than we were in 2007.”

Both encouraged residents to do their part to protect themselves and help firefighters.

“Today we are more prepared than ever,” Sanders said. “While we have taken great strides to ensure the safety of San Diegans, each of us needs to do our own part to protect ourselves and our homes.”

Residents should maintain 100 feet of defensible space around their homes, remove tree branches that come from within 10 feet of chimneys, clear vegetation and debris from decks, roofs and rain gutters and move flammable patio furniture, play structures and storage containers away from structures, Mainar said.

It’s also important to encourage neighbors to take similar preventive measures, he said.

“We are committed and will do everything in our power to protect our community and its citizens,” Mainar said. “But when the next wildfire hits, and one will hit, it won’t be enough without your help.”

While there are no major fires burning in San Diego County, the Station Fire has scorched more than 140,000 acres of forest land north of Los Angeles.

The fire, about 22 percent contained, has destroyed more than 60 homes and cabins and been implicated in the deaths of two Los Angeles County firefighters, who died when a vehicle they were in went off a mountain road. It has cost at least $21 million to fight so far. Containment is projected by Sept. 15.