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Harmony Grove Residents Worry About Fire Evacuation Routes

Photo by Angelique Hartman

Children are pictured in front of a home that burned in Harmony Grove, May 2014.

The community of scattered homes in the hills and valleys of Harmony Grove was hard hit by the Cocos fire in May 2014.

The flames burned 26 homes in the neighborhood on the outskirts of Escondido, wiping out the century-old Harmony Grove Spiritualist Center community.

Angelique Hartman, who lives nearby, did not lose her home but lost her outbuildings. The flames came within feet of the family’s house. Two of her neighbors did lose their homes. Neither of them has rebuilt, she said.

“The biggest threat with fire in mind is that we won't be able to evacuate," Hartman said. “We’ll be trapped in our homes or trapped on the road, so we’re all very scared of that possibility.”

Hartman and her neighbors are fighting to preserve the rural character of the community, including the two-lane roads. But new developments bringing hundreds of homes to the urban/rural interface could make evacuation even more risky in the future, she said.

The Harmony Grove Village developments will build more than 1,000 homes on the outskirts of Escondido and San Marcos, creating urban neighborhoods to the north of the rural communities of Harmony Grove.

Photo by Jorge Contreras

A map of the evacuation routes affected by the Cocos Fire. Red dots mark traffic bottlenecks that prevented residents from evacuating safely in May 2014.

During last year’s fires, traffic bottlenecks occurred at key junctions on escape routes headed toward state Route 78 and Interstate 15, Hartman said.

Evacuating in the other direction was no better, she said. The new town center of San Elijo Hills to the west also experienced clogged traffic, even though developers have built four-lane roads for the new community.

Twin Oaks Valley and Elfin Forest roads were closed by the fires, so the only way out of that community was on San Elijo Road west.

“They were still stuck on the roads there for two hours,” Hartman said. “Had the fire gone in that direction, it could have been a huge disaster for human life.“

At a Wednesday news conference, county supervisors made no mention of plans to examine problems with evacuation routes for new communities that are springing up in the hills east of Interstate 15 and south of Route 78.

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