Fire this time: Dangers abound, San Pasqual response time improves

Regional firefighters stop the Witch Creek Fire outside Del Dios.

When it comes to North County: Fire, bad. Additional fire-fighting resources, good.

The bad news this week, as if residents didn’t know it intuitively: More than half the land in San Diego County – including neighborhoods reaching almost to the ocean and densely settled foothill cities – is at high or very high potential for difficult-to-control fire according to data gleaned from maps prepared by the U.S. Forest Service by innewsource investigative reporter Ingrid Lobet.

The good news this week: San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, in an unusual move, reported that beefing up San Diego County Firefighting Authority’s San Pasqual firefighting capacity with a new engine company and 4-firefighter crew had improved response times by nearly 20 percent over same time, 2015.

An investigation into the county’s fire data and danger found almost a quarter of the county fell into the highest fire hazard potential category possible. Another 29 percent of the county fell into the second-most high fire risk category.

“That includes the area west of Interstate 15 near Escondido and Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve, just two miles from the ocean northeast to state Route 56; Mission Trails Regional Park; much of the city of Santee; the lands of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation; Brown Field Municipal Airport and lower Otay Mesa on the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of the vast arc of land between Fallbrook and Borrego Springs is also red,” Lobet said.

Del Dios resident Stan Smith in cowboy hat and shirtless aids Rancho Santa Fe firefighters during Witch Creek blaze.

Del Dios resident Stan Smith in cowboy hat and shirtless aids Rancho Santa Fe firefighters during Witch Creek blaze.

Devastating fires struck the San Diego area in 2007. Fire officials asked half a million people, from Oceanside to Chula Vista, to evacuate. The Witch Creek fire alone that year burned almost 200,000 acres.

Witch Creek flames in October, 2007 blew through San Pasqual Valley, the city of San Diego Agricultural Preserve around Escondido, and some 40 miles from Downtown San Diego.

That massive fire alone resulted in nearly a half-million people evacuated as it burned through nearly 200,000 acres. It started with downed SDG&E power lines around Julian, ending along a ridge-line at Del Dios in Rancho Santa Fe, nearly sweeping into coastal communities.

The new city of San Diego fire postings will be paid with county dollars. Mutual response requirements made for the need of additional downtime communicating when calls came in from city of San Diego resources. The new personnel were expected to alleviate response time concerns.

The crew is stationed at the County Fire Authority’s San Pasqual Fire Station 93 — east of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on San Pasqual Valley Road – – at no cost to the city. The arrangement started with the beginning of the new fiscal year July 1.

A large portion of the valley, east of Escondido, is actually city of San Diego land, stretching east along state Route 78 well past the Safari Park.

The fire station where the added crew is based is located just west of the academy in a building that used to be home to a volunteer fire department that was disbanded two years ago following a water-stealing scandal. The station is now home to the county’s fire authority and manned most of the time by Cal Fire trainees.

City of San diego firefighters in action.

City of San diego firefighters in action.

“Every second counts in an emergency,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said last week at a Rancho Bernardo news conference announcing the additional postings. “By saving minutes of travel time, we’re able to more effectively save lives and to protect homes.”

Firefighters based in Rancho Bernardo don’t have to make as many runs into the San Pasqual Valley now, so are able to better serve their own neighborhood, according to the SDFRD.

The crew picked up business starting July 1. Nine calls since then were handled nearly 20 percent faster than last year with an average response time of 9 minutes, 34 seconds.

“I don’t know of anywhere where this has been done where the city has stationed a crew in another jurisdiction,” County Supervisor Chairman Ron Roberts said. “We’ll provide the housing … I think it’s going to be a tremendous success for all of us.

A city report has recommended a new city fire station be built in the valley at a cost of as much as $12 million. The partnership provides a much cheaper option, City Council member Mark Kersey said.

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