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Fire Weather Risk, Extreme High Winds Remain In San Diego County

November 13, 2018 1:42 p.m.

Fire Weather Risk, Extreme High Winds Remain In San Diego County

GUEST:

Jon Heggie, battalion chief, Cal Fire

Related Story: Fire Weather Risk, Extreme High Winds Remain In San Diego County

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

You can feel the dryness in the air low humidity warm temperatures and wind gusts up to 80 miles per hour are combining today to create dangerous fire conditions throughout the county. San Diego utility officials estimate 30000 customers are without power mostly in the rural back country. More than 10000 customers. Power was cut as a safety precaution. Joining me with more on how Cal Fire is preparing during these dangerous conditions is Cal Fire Battalion Chief John Hagy. Thank you so much for joining us John.

Good afternoon.

John. What has Cal Fire done to prepare for the fire danger we're facing this week.

Well Cal Fire has done a multiple of different strategic moves to try to ensure safety here in San Diego County. First and foremost what we've done is we've canceled days off from everybody from fire chief all the way down to firefighter. So all personnel are held on duty. And what we're doing is we're staffing all of our extra equipment. We keep a strategic reserve of equipment just in case we have those high fire danger day days like we're experiencing right now so that we ensure that we have enough equipment staffer and absinth at work start here in San Diego County.

And you mentioned that you are bulking up your staffing during this time. How are you able to keep eyes on all of the areas that you need to do.

You know we have strategically placed resources throughout the county but we also utilize a system of cameras that are placed on mountaintops throughout the county so we have the ability through technology and through real time reporting to be able to observe a good portion of the county too so when we do get a report of a smoke we'll be able to turn those cameras onto that area to get an observation deck and basically to get some eyes in the sky. Not only that but we have air resources that were able to launch on a moment's notice to get an aerial platform to be able to observe the fire conditions or where there is a potential fire.

Now are there specific areas of the county that you're paying close attention to.

The one thing about this one event is it's wide reaching it's touching every part of San Diego County. But yeah. Obviously we're concentrating on the back country a little bit but really there's no part of San Diego that that's being spared from this wind event. So we're looking at every area and concentrating our resources in those areas that we feel are going to be the worst but the reality is the San Diego County is being affected by this Santa Ana winds.

Now firefighters have already put out three smaller fires in the county in the last three days. What damage did those fires do.

You know we were very fortunate in the sense that we were able to aggressively attack those fires and keep those winds fairly small. So but as you can see with those wind gusts up to excess of 80 miles an hour. Any incident of a fire starting has a potential to be devastating and the very similar to what we saw in northern California in Butte County and up in Los Angeles County. So we're experiencing those exact same weather conditions here in San Diego today. So the reality is any in any fire that starts has that exact same potential.

And this is not a fire issue for the country as we've seen in Los Angeles. It has a potential for for wide spreading effects and moving from the east on all the way to the west and potentially reaching the coast.

Now parts of Fallbrook burned last December and the Lilach fire did that existing burn area have anything to do with firefighters ability to put that fire out so quickly.

You know I don't have a lot of information on where that fire was in relationship to the lilac fire. But you know it all fires right now are really dangerous under these weather conditions. What we see is if it gets in alignment with wind and topography and you have enough dry brush the potential for those fires to explode and to rapidly grow it's there on every incident. So what we're trying to do is throw as much resources both ground and air on these fires while they're small to try to keep them from growing and being devastating like we're seeing in other parts of the state.

All right in power it's been cut to tens of thousands of residents in the back country. Have you heard about an increase in emergency calls from that area.

You know I've been monitoring our emergency command center and our call volume with power related calls has not increased or decreased it seems to be fairly normal for for this type of of a day. So the reality is we're not seeing a dramatic increase or not seeing a drag decrease so it seems to be kind of business as usual so to speak. So that's not having a dramatic effect on our ability right now. And you know we've made we made. Preparation for this type of event we were well versed by SPG knew that this was coming so we're able to maneuver some of our facilities into a position to where they had auxiliary power so we are prepared for this.

And the reality is if any fire starts and we will be ready to attack it.

And I know you've received an increase in emergency calls from people reporting having seen smoke. What are you advising people to do if they see smoke.

Yeah absolutely. With these high winds we're getting a lot of reports of smoke which unfortunately turned out to be mostly dust this morning. So but if anyone has even a slight suspicion that they see smoke to go ahead and call 911 to report it because early reporting gets early response and early response equals early extinguishment and that's what we're trying to achieve under these horrible horrible weather conditions.

And remind us again of what types of things people should avoid doing during a red flag warning what types of everyday activities should we just not do.

You know we want to try to toy people to do is to limit those outdoor activities that could potentially have any type of ignition. So whether you're mowing the grass and on these dry conditions and you could potentially hit a rock and create a spark or welding outside or even as much as is pulling a trailer with the chains dragging anything that is an outdoor activity that could potentially create a sparking Nischan with people to refrain from doing that as we're in these these very dry very windy conditions because all it takes is one spark and then all of sudden we could be in a situation where we'll have devastating fires just like we're seeing throughout the state.

Well Battalion Chief John Hagy we wish you all safety and thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you very much.