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Palomar Mountain, I-8 Corridor Identified as Top Fire Priorities

Palomar Mountain and the Interstate 8 corridor between  Alpine and the Laguna Mountains are the two most important areas for clearing  brush as a way of preventing wildfires, according to report delivered to the  San Diego County Board of Supervisors today.

The report proposes a brush clearance plan for unincorporated areas.  Clearing brush from Palomar Mountain was identified as the top priority.

"Vegetation management techniques including controlled burns and manual  thinning of trees are needed to protect sensitive habitat areas, ancient  trees and even some outstanding old but healthy chaparral," the report states.

County officials credited a 2004-06 program under which dead and dying  trees were removed, enabling firefighters to save two communities, a state park  and a county park during the Poomacha Fire, which was part of the 2007  firestorm.

Several opponents of the plan told the supervisors that removing the  natural chaparral allows weeds to pop up in their place.

The weeds are "more flammable and more readily ignitable" than what  was there before," said Wayne Tyson, who led a task force that studied the  1970 Laguna Fire.

Many of the East County areas along the I-8 corridor -- the No. 2  priority -- have not burned since

Descanso, Guatay, Pine Valley, Corte Madera and Crouch Meadows would all  be threatened by a major fire in the area, according to the report.

"The advancing age of this vegetation combined with the drought is  creating a situation that is becoming gravely dangerous," the report states.

Many dead trees have been removed, but more have died, particularly  north of Descanso, according to the report. Also, many homes have been built  since the Laguna Fire.

The other high-priority areas, in order, are:

-- the southeastern part of the county roughly from Jacumba to Potrero,

-- Julian, which despite numerous fires still has some parts that  haven't burned in years, especially around Pine Hills,

-- a swath of rural North County from Rainbow to the Twin Oaks area  north of San Marcos and including Jesmond Dene, Bonsall and Pauma Valley,

-- Rancho Santa Fe because of tricky terrain, large homes and  environmental concerns,

-- an area east of Camp Pendleton that includes Rainbow, Fallbrook and  De Luz because of old chaparral and groves of trees,

-- Warner Springs and surrounding areas that haven't burned in decades,

-- and Mount Laguna, portions of which haven't burned in many years.

The report estimated a cost of nearly $500 million to develop and  implement vegetation management plans for each of the areas, or $2,500 per  acre.

The report is "long overdue" and "lays out an operational plan" to  attack the fire problem in the county, Supervisor Bill Horn said.

Individual projects included in the report, such as thinning trees and  controlled burns, will be subject to state environmental laws when funding  becomes available.
 

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