Report draws lessons from May wildfires

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors directed its staff Tuesday to convene a workshop of fire, government and military officials to discuss ways of improving coordination among emergency response agencies and to address 21 recommendations included in a report on last month’s wildfires.

Wildfire Forces Evacuation Of Thousands In Carlsbad, California
Fires rage above an apartment complex May 14, 2014 in San Marcos, California. (Photo by Bill Wechter/Getty Images)

Various fire-response agencies worked together much better during the outbreak that began May 13, compared to previous firestorms in 2003 and 2007, but “we can’t rest on our laurels,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

“This is an opportunity as a region to sit down and talk about next steps,” Jacob said. “How can we be better, how can we be the best prepared that we can be, and what we can afford to be, and come back with some recommendations on how we can improve the region’s fire protection system.”

More than a dozen fires broke out that day and the following day, burning down 65 structures, including 46 single-family homes, according to county statistics. Several apartments and commercial structures were also destroyed.

Flames scorched tens of thousands of acres of brush, forced the evacuation of the Cal State San Marcos campus and temporarily closed numerous schools and businesses.

According to the report prepared by the county Office of Emergency Services, damage to private property was estimated at $29.8 million. Officials figured it cost $27.9 million to fight the blazes.

Among the major needs addressed in the report were:

  • public information campaigns urging residents to better prepare for wildfires and follow evacuation orders;
  • emergency information to be delivered in languages other than English;
  • forward-looking infrared imaging devices to help firefighters locate hot spots in smoky conditions;
  • pre-positioning firefighting aircraft at the onset of dangerous fire weather;
  • developing ways that officials can verify information quickly so it can be given to the public;
  • speedier production of fire perimeter maps for public distribution;
  • additional multi-lingual translators to convey emergency information to non-English speakers.

“Firefighters will tell you these are the worst fire conditions that we have seen in years if not decades,” said Holly Crawford with San Diego County. “It’s important to know that there are steps you can take at home with your family to make sure that you are prepared.”

County officials also discussed a possible need for a third firefighting helicopter. Jacob said it could take eight to 10 months to acquire another chopper.

The board voted unanimously to direct its staff to convene a workshop within 45 days and come back to the board in three months with ideas on how to standardize regulations during red flag warnings and other dangerous fire weather.

Officials want to remind residents to make a disaster plan.

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