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Politics

County Fire Plan Calls For Consolidating Agencies

The number of wildfires in San Diego is expected to increase as a result of climate change. In this photo, a San Diego firefighter battles flames in Tierrasanta during 2003 wildfires.
KPBS file photo
The number of wildfires in San Diego is expected to increase as a result of climate change. In this photo, a San Diego firefighter battles flames in Tierrasanta during 2003 wildfires.
County Fire Plan Calls For Consolidating Agencies
There’s an effort underway to consolidate different fire agencies in San Diego County. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to implement a fire protection plan.

There’s an effort underway to consolidate different fire agencies in San Diego County. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to implement a fire protection plan.

The plan comes out of the recently completed Fire Deployment Study commissioned more than a year ago. It calls for creating a Joint Powers Agreement among various fire agencies in the county. It also names CAL FIRE San Diego Chief Howard Windsor as the San Diego fire chief.

Supervisor Bill Horn said consolidating agencies is just as good as having a county fire department.

“It doesn’t make a difference which patch these firefighters wear on their shoulders. What makes a difference is how the men and women on the ground work together,” he said.

Horn said the county is spending more on firefighting resources while other jurisdictions are cutting back. The plan allocates $15.5 million annually to the county fire agency. He said it will one day lead to a de facto county fire department.

But Stephen Whitburn, who is running against Supervisor Ron Roberts in the November election, says the plan doesn’t go far enough. He said counting on volunteers and moving oversight of county fire services from one department to another doesn’t amount to a significant change.

“You are sitting on $700 million in reserves in a time when San Diego County has had more people burn to death in wildfires in the past decade than anywhere else in this nation,” he said.

The supervisors have allocated $5 million this year to get the plan going. The funds go toward improving some backcountry fire stations, upgrading equipment and technology, and training firefighters.

The supervisors have been working on consolidating fire protection for the backcountry since devastating wildfires struck in 2003 and 2007. The several fires that started during periods of strong October Santa Ana winds those years all started in rural areas and spread into populated neighborhoods.