San Diego, California - Ahead of any Santa Ana winds, San Diego County emergency managers are reviewing emergency plans and resources to make sure the region is prepared for peak fire season. Part of the County’s effort is a major awareness campaign that will launch later this month asking residents to “Get Fired Up” about preparing their homes and families.
“While San Diego County in May was hit hard by a series of wildfires, this fall could be even tougher,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “Our fall fire season is often brutal, and experts say the risks are particularly high this year due to the drought conditions, so we must step up our game in our efforts to be prepared.”
Jacob made the comments at Sheriff’s ASTREA helicopter base Wednesday, where she announced how the region is bolstering its aerial resources and provided details of the County’s upcoming fire preparedness campaign.
After the May fires, the County made a list of key recommendations to improve its response for the next regional wildfire. One of those improvement items was to secure an “exclusive-use” aerial firefighting contract for peak fire season, meaning a resource that would be dedicated to San Diego County and not be at risk of getting called away to fight fires elsewhere
The County accomplished this by leasing a firefighting helicopter that will remain in San Diego as an exclusive-use resource for the region. In the event of a wildfire, the UH-1H Huey helicopter based at Gillespie Field will deploy right alongside the Sheriff’s Bell 205 firefighting helicopters, which are manned by a sheriff’s pilot and CAL FIRE crews.
The Huey is the same firefighting helicopter model used by CAL FIRE and has buckets that can carry from 324 to 375 gallons of water.
County Supervisor Bill Horn also noted that, in a partnership spearheaded by County Supervisor Ron Roberts, San Diego Gas and Electric will make two firefighting helicopters available to the region for use in an extended firefighting response during peak fire season. The Type 2 helicopters will be flown by the City of San Diego and operation costs will be shared by SDG&E, the County, and the ordering jurisdiction.
“That means we have three contract helicopters on standby this fire season to bolster the region’s permanent resources,” said Horn. “In addition to our contract, Sheriff, City, SDG&E and CAL FIRE air resources, we have an agreement with the military to fight fires with their air resources in a prolonged firefight, just like they did in May.”
Indeed, firefighters throughout the state are on high alert for brushfires that could take hold in a drought-ravaged state. In San Diego, CAL FIRE crews went to peak staffing in March, which is the earliest in recent history, said San Diego County Fire Authority Chief and CAL FIRE Unit Chief Tony Mecham.
“I am extremely concerned going into the fall that should we get the winds, we are going to get fires in San Diego County,” Mecham said.
To prepare, regional fire agencies and the County are recommending residents take a “Ready, Set, Go!” approach for peak fire season.
Residents are asked to get “ready” by creating or maintaining at least 100 feet of defensible space – but to do so only early in the morning when the grasses are still dewy to prevent sparking a fire in the dry heat of the day.
Residents can also get “ready” by making an emergency plan and gathering emergency supplies.
If a fire breaks out, San Diegans can get “set” to evacuate by: staying tuned to media; grabbing their emergency supply kit; leaving inside and outside lights on so firefighters can see their home through smoke; closing all windows and doors but leaving them unlocked for firefighters; turning off propane and gas tanks, pilot lights and air conditioning; moving furniture to the center of the room and bringing patio furniture inside. All these steps give your home a better chance if embers were to land on your property.
And finally, if told to do so, or if they feel unsafe, residents should “go.” Firefighters suggest residents pre-pack their vehicles and leave early to avoid congestion from others evacuating and emergency vehicles. Residents can “go” to a predetermined location outside of the area at risk or established temporary evacuation points or shelters.
With so many residents opting out of home phone service and using just cell phone service, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore is reminding residents to register their cell phones with the County’s free AlertSanDiego notification system to make sure they get any calls with evacuation instructions.
“Our AlertSanDiego system wasn’t as effective as it could be during the May 2014 fires because people didn’t register their cell phones,” Gore said.
The County’s Get Fired Up: Ready, Set, Go! Campaign will be more prominent in the next few weeks with mailers to fire-prone communities, online advertisements, billboards and public safety announcements.