Harmony Grove residents concerned about fire danger

ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Some North County residents are voicing their concerns about a fire escape plan after comparing their community with Paradise, an area ravaged by the Camp Fire.

Residents in Harmony Grove, which is in the hills outside of Escondido, are seeing a number of similarities, including topography and a fire evacuation plan that they say doesn’t work.

Kevin Barnard has lived in the area for 23 years. He describes evacuating during the Cocos Fire as chaotic.

“We are underbuilt with our infrastructure and our roads to handle what we even have now,” said Barnard.“This area is a CALFIRE designated very high fire severity zone,” said JP Theberge of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council.

With the state’s wildfires on top of their minds, residents and local leaders met Tuesday to raise concern over fire danger and even more so as hundreds of new homes are being built in the area.

Recently county officials approved two new developments – Harmony Grove South and Valiano, which will add an estimated 800 new homes to the area. This is on top of the 750 homes soon to be under construction. Even more challenging is the road to evacuate is a two-lane highway.

“There’s a mathematical impossibility of getting people out in a safe amount of time,” said Theberge. “There’s too many vehicles, too many houses and then it becomes a much bigger challenge to evacuate.”

Fire officials said wildfire plans include controlled evacuation by stages.

“Can you imagine a fire barreling down that valley at you? Would you sit here?” asked Scott Sutherland of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council. “I sure wouldn’t, that’s why we’re terrified out here.”

Barnard already sees disaster. As a former police officer, he knows all too well that during times of emergency, people can’t be controlled.

“People are going to make bad decisions and get in bad situations and there’s probably going to be loss of life,” said Barnard.