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S.D. County Reviews Fire Preparedness

— San Diego County has produced a video about what has changed since the wildfires of 2003 and 2007. The video was shown at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday.

“The county has made wildfire preparedness a top priority,” the announcer says. “We’ve reorganized firefighting efforts. The patchwork of volunteer and backcountry agencies are now under the County Fire Authority, making communications much more streamlined.”

Supervisors say they’ve invested $180 million in fire protection since the 2003 wildfires, and doubled annual spending from $8 million to $15 million.

Howard Windsor, head of Cal Fire in San Diego County, said he coordinates 54 fire stations, 18 of which are staffed with professional state fire crews on 26 fire engines.

However, President of the San Diego County Council of Firefighters Rick Fisher says, while Cal Fire is doing a good job of coordinating fire resources, the three dozen backcountry fire stations run by the county are staffed almost entirely by volunteers. He says San Diego County is shortchanging fire protection and continues to invest far less than other Southern California counties.

“If they have a magic formula that they can run a county fire department for $15 million, I believe they would have L.A. County, Santa Barbara, Ventura and other counties knocking on their door wanting to know the secret formula,” Fisher says. “Because those counties are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to run their county fire departments.”

Fisher says the County is spending about the same amount -- $15 million -- as Carlsbad spends to protect its citizens, whereas the county is responsible for much of the backcountry where most wildfires start.

Many of those who voted last year against a parcel tax to raise money for fire protection live in the backcountry.

County Supervisor Diane Jacob says the region as a whole, including cities and fire districts, spends $450 million on fire protection.

San Diego County is funding a study of what different agencies spend on fire protection to find out where future investments should be made. That study should be done by next spring.

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