County approves new wildfire response plan

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego County supervisors Tuesday took action to better respond to wildfire risks by beefing up staff and increasing a contract with Cal Fire.

On a 4-0 vote, the board approved a proposal to add five people to the Fire Authority's Community Risk Reduction Division; assist up to 20,000 homeowners with defensible space fire protection; require vents in new construction for better flame and ember resistance; execute a pre-fire plan for high-risk neighborhoods; and improve vegetation management and emergency planning.

The upgraded wildfire plan will result in a network of fire breaks around Crest, Guatay, Palomar Mountain and other backcountry communities, according to board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob's office.

The county and Cal Fire will work together on carrying out the proposals, Jacob's office said.

"We're improving our fire prevention ground game and launching several initiatives to better safeguard communities that sit in the crosshairs of a potential disaster," Jacob said after the meeting.

Jacob, along with Supervisor Jim Desmond, requested the wildfire policy improvements.

Fire safety improvements will cost $1,570,119 in fiscal year 2019- 2020, according to county documents. That amount includes $1,210,363 to pay for the additional employees and contract staff, and $359,756 in one-time costs for contracted inspection services.

Ron Lane, deputy chief administration officer, said the county will monitor progress and complete programs by either the summer of 2020 or 2021.

Jacob said there are nearly 60,000 homes in San Diego County at high risk in a wildfire, and added she hoped the county would consider fire insurance for future home construction.

Desmond said that more than 600,000 residents live in unincorporated areas, and "as we enter the 2019 wildfire season, this will allow the county help residents better prepare."

Cal Fire Chief Tony Mecham told the board that five additional staff positions will provide more insight and code enforcement. He added that his agency's strategy is educating the community, engineering and enforcement.

Cal Fire will increase home inspections and work toward distributing metal boxes that will let homeowners keep keys in a safe place in case of a wildfire, Mecham said.

Cal Fire will also take steps to protect evacuation corridors, maintain 40 miles of fire roads and truck trails, update community evacuation plans and increase prescribed burns, according to Mecham. He added that Cal Fire wants increased GIS capabilities and new software, a regional public safety database and enhanced mutual aid radio infrastructure.

Along with his fellow supervisors, Nathan Fletcher praised the wildfire plan and praised Cal Fire for its efforts.

Fletcher added that the board should be mindful as it considers future housing in high-risk areas.

Supervisor Greg Cox was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

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