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Fire Officials Say San Diego Should Brace For 'Unprecedented' Fire Season

Cal Fire and San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham talks about the heightened risk of wildfires during a news conference at the Cal Fire Air Attack Base in Ramona, May 7, 2015.
Roland Lizarondo
Cal Fire and San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham talks about the heightened risk of wildfires during a news conference at the Cal Fire Air Attack Base in Ramona, May 7, 2015.

Fire Officials Say San Diego Should Brace For 'Unprecedented' Fire Season
Despite this week’s rain showers and cool temperatures, state and local fire officials are warning, come summer and fall, San Diego County could be poised for one of its worst fire seasons ever.

Despite this week’s rain showers and cool temperatures, state and local fire officials are warning, come summer and fall San Diego County could be poised for one of its worst fire seasons ever.

A powerhouse of state and local fire officials — including Cal Fire, U.S. Forest Service, military, tribal, San Diego County, and city crews — lined up Thursday in front of their massive firefighting helicopters at the Cal Fire Air Attack Base in Ramona to urge residents to be prepared.

The event was part of the statewide Wildfire Awareness Week to remind people of the role they play in preparing for and preventing wildfires.

“We are seeing vegetation conditions that are drier than they’ve ever been,” said Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott.

He said the dead fuels are creating "unprecedented fire behavior" that is usually only seen during Santa Ana wind conditions.

“When fires escape initial attack, we’ve seen them grow…as much as 15 miles in one day — over 40,000 acres,” Pimlott said.

With new mandatory watering restrictions in place, Pimlott said it is essential for people to clear fire hazards from their properties.

“When you stop watering your lawn, it’s going to dry up," Pimlott said. "And we want to make sure that you maintain, clear...any dead vegetation including your lawn so that it does not become part of the fire problem.”

Cal Fire and San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham said another concern is the region’s dwindling water sources, such as lakes and ponds, that are used for filling up water-dropping helicopters and aircraft.

“A lot of our water sources in the East County have dried up,” Mecham said. “So our aircraft are going to be making longer trips to fill with water.”

It was nearly one year ago that a dozen Santa Ana wind-whipped wildfires roared through San Diego County neighborhoods, devouring 27,000 acres and 65 homes.

Mecham said fighting fires during strong Santa Ana wind events will continue to be a big challenge.

“No firefighter in Florida would put their hands up and tell a hurricane to stop, and we’re kind of in that same mindset,” Mecham said. “We’re not going to stop the head of the fire. We can work the sides. Our goal really is life safety, to get people out.”

Mecham urged people to prepare now by having an emergency supply kit and family evacuation plan in place.