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The Alpine Fire Was Contained In A Day. How?

Flames from the West Fire burn brush near Alpine, CA, July 6, 2018.
Matt Hoffman
Flames from the West Fire burn brush near Alpine, CA, July 6, 2018.
The Alpine Fire Was Contained In A Day. How?
The Alpine Fire Was Contained In A Day. How? GUEST: Issac Sanchez, fire captain/public information officer

Forecasters say we're at the start of a week long heat wave in San Diego. Temperatures in most areas will be in the 80s and 90s. Hundreds are expected in the inland valleys. The last time we had a blast of extreme heat this month we had fires the most damaging was the west fire in Alpine that destroyed more than 50 structures including 34 homes. One hopeful note might be that despite the west fire breaking out in a closely packed residential area of Alpine and unexpected winds driving the flames. Firefighters were able to get a handle on it before even more homes were burned. Joining me to discuss the firefighting strategy and resources that made that possible is Captain Isaac Sanchez public information officer for Cal Fire and Captain Sanchez welcome. Thank you. The fire was reported about 11 15 A.M. and nearly 100 percent contained by the next day which seems pretty amazing given the heat and the terrain. What was the strategy to make that happen. You know initially because of the the conditions firefighters were faced were faced with the initial strategies where to simply protect lives and property. Anytime you have a fire that's moving that quickly in that closely to a community it's very difficult to take direct action on the fire. That doesn't mean that we weren't taking direct action on the fire. It just means that the main priority was protecting lives and property. How different is the strategy for fighting a wildfire that's burning in a area of brush as opposed to as I say a rather densely populated residential community. Sure. Like I said when you when you add people in property into the mix it certainly does complicate things in the fire service and it's not unique to Cal Fire it's pretty much fire service wide worldwide. Our priorities are are life property and the environment in that order. And until you can move on from protecting lives. And until you move on from protecting property you can't really take action or the direct action that you would like to on a on a moving vegetation fire. So if we were to take the the the population out of the equation then it's just a matter of concentrating our efforts on direct fire attack. What are all the things that the firefighters have to take into consideration when a wildfire breaks out. You just now made the distinction of brush fire as opposed to a fire in a populated area what are some of the other things that that factor into the way you go about fighting a fire. Sure. It's several things. It's not just you know that the fire is burning and we run headlong into the into the fight. We have to do what's called a size up. We have to look at the incident for what it is every fire is treated differently we don't have a set plan for every single fire because there are things that influence the fire and make them in individual fires or make them unique and so that those are fuel weather and topography. And if we have all those those three things lined up we're going to take a different tack when it comes to attacking that fire. If we don't have any of those things if we have single digit humidities and high high temperatures but you know the fires may be burning in a in a very flat area and no threat that it's really going to spread up on the mountain or into a community. Again we'll take a different set of action will certainly go direct on it where we can. But every fire certainly is treated differently. We were watching that fire we were watching it on television and there was a while there in the early afternoon that it looked like it was not going to be stoppable. And then all of a sudden a couple of hours later it started to die down. And I'm wondering was that because of weather conditions or do you think that was because of the strategy that the firefighters used to fight the fire. You know it really is a mixture of both. We know you know being in San Diego when we spent our entire careers like many of us here in San Diego that that fight fire in San Diego have done. We know that certain times of the day are going to be a little more advanced advantageous for us. So you know again and of course when we take into consideration the early part of an incident can be chaotic for any incident regardless of size and type until we can put the command structure in place and really come up with a good plan in areas that we're going to concentrate on. We we you might see continued growth of an incident but during this particular fire like you said that time of day as the day grinds on and as the temperatures cool down and the humidity rises slowly as they do it can certainly make a difference during the life of an incident. I'd like to get your response to a letter in the San Diego Union Tribune that was published last week and asked it asked about mutual aid when mutual aid was requested and deployed in the West fire. This is a quote with the fire starting shortly after 11:00 a.m. air support and other agencies were not noticeable until well after 1:00 p.m. and the writer further asked if there were sufficient resources deployed in a timely manner to save these homes. This was a resident he identified himself as a resident of Alpine. How do you respond to that. You know I don't have the specifics as far as where resources were in particular specific resources where I know that we were battling several fires in San Diego County at that particular moment and that particular day. We do have to fight the fires that we have and of course mutual aid and automatic aid are something that are always initiated especially in San Diego County we have one of the best mutual aid systems not only in the state but in the country. And because of that we did have resources there in a timely manner as far as I'm concerned. But again when we have multiple fires burning in the county at a particular moment that certainly is going to stress things. But as far as specifically when resources arrived I don't have that information right now. As I said in the beginning it's going to be hot this week and we could see more fires break out in San Diego. What is Cal Fires approach if several fires break out in quick succession. Well like I said we do rely on our co-operators quite a bit and it's not just Cal Fire that relies we share resources across jurisdictions regularly in this county both on the receiving end and on the giving end as an agency. And of course as an industry in this county and in this state. But the plan is generally speaking when we have a concerning weather pattern or you know that's going to approach and impact the community we will generally sometimes staff resources we'll bring extra people on duty We'll hold folks on duty. We'll preposition resources like we did in December as it not only as an agency but as a as an industry in this state. We had many many resources that were prepositioned in in December in the run up to the light like incident and that was based off of Praet predicted whether or whether that was coming an expected fire behavior that kind of stuff and of course if we remember that particular week there were multiple fires burning up and down the state. But again because we had so many resources prepositioned specifically for San Diego County we were able to keep the Lilach to the size that we did. I've been speaking with Captain Isaac Sanchez public information officer for Cal Fire. Thank you. Thank you.

The West Fire in Alpine broke out around 11:15 a.m. on Friday, July 6 in a grassy area off I-8 at West Willows Road. It eventually consumed 504 acres and 56 structures, including 32 homes.

Firefighters had the blaze nearly fully contained by Saturday evening. Given Alpine's brushy and hilly terrain and the 100-plus degree heat, this seems like a remarkable achievement.

RELATED: 57 Buildings Destroyed In Alpine Fire


Issac Sanchez, fire captain and public information officer for Cal Fire, notes that many factors are considered when attacking a brush fire: population, terrain, temperature, winds and humidity among them. But the order of concern is always the same: people, structures and environment.

Sanchez talks about the art of firefighting in a dry and volatile environment on KPBS Midday Edition.

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