CAL FIRE Getting More Seasonal Help
San Diego’s CAL FIRE unit will be able to hire about 100 additional people to work during the upcoming wildfire season thanks to an executive order from the governor.
The order will result in a $3- to $5-million boost in the local CAL FIRE budget. San Diego Unit Chief Howard Windsor said the money will be used to put an additional firefighter on each of the 26 local CAL FIRE engines at all times. It will also provide 21 people to staff a helicopter program CAL FIRE has with the sheriff’s department.
Windsor said the extra people are critical to putting out fires when they’re small.
"That is a great reduction in cost to the taxpayer, to suppression costs," he said. "When we get into these larges fires, such as the fires of 2003 and 2007, you can have suppression costs that are in the millions of dollars a day."
Fire agencies around San Diego County are warning residents to be prepared for the wildfire season. They’re stressing the need for defensible space around houses and keeping key documents at the ready. They're also encouraging people to have a plan in place in case they have to leave their homes in a hurry.
Windsor said higher than normal rainfall has resulted in increased grass and vegetation across the state, especially in San Diego's East County. Firefighters in San Diego County hope to contain all blazes within the first two hours, to 10 acres or less, he said.
Cleveland National Forest Fire Chief Carlton Joseph said San Diego County has a lot of "flashy fuel" that can burn quickly in a wildfire, especially in areas such as Laguna Footprint near Mount Laguna.
"Anything that can burn will burn under these worst-case conditions," he said.
Firefighters continue to have fixed-wing aircraft and water-dropping helicopters at their disposal, but preparedness helps minimize the damage and prevents loss of life, officials said.
Windsor said firefighters are still at the whim of mother nature when it comes to factors such as wind and low humidity.
"There is no magic pill," he told reporters, reiterating the importance of educating the public on fire preparedness. "We can get knocked off our feet."
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob was asked is she felt safe from wildfires in San Diego County.
"I feel a lot safer today than back in 2003," she said.
The Cedar Fire in October 2003 burned more than 28,000 acres in the city of San Diego, destroyed 335 structures and killed 15 people.