Saturday, August 25, 2012
For the first time in about five years, Cal Fire got assistance from the military to put out a series of wildfires in San Diego's rural backcountry last week. The Vallecito fires in East County posed enough of a threat to people and property to call in Marine and Navy assets.
By the time the lightening-sparked fires near Julian were contained last weekend, more than 23,000 acres were burned, but few structures were damaged and no one was severely hurt. Eight Marine Corps helicopters and three Navy choppers pitched in for the first time since the devastating 2007 wildfires in San Diego County.
"We train continuously year after year for an event like this, so it was very fulfilling to see the plan that we put forth come together in a safe and effective manner to serve the public," Cal Fire battalion chief Ray Chaney said. Chaney is stationed in Ramona and says the biggest challenge working with the military was integrating resources effectively.
"So how can we safely take a Navy or Marine Corps aircraft and put them into an environment they've never worked in before, working alongside civilian aircraft in a very delicately balanced and congested airspace over a fire," Chaney said.
He said they were able to meet the challenge because they train with the military every year for such an event.
"So when we did activate them it was a seamless transition for them to come into the recent incidents," he said.
Cal Fire has the largest aerial fire fighting fleet in the world and can respond to a 911 call within 15 minutes anywhere in California. Chaney grew up in San Diego and has always enjoyed flying and he proudly showed off his office where he commands the fire fight from the air. With the Santa Ana season still to come, Chaney recommends we all go over our emergency plans for what to do in case of a fire. For suggestions go to the county's emergency planning website ReadySanDiego.org.