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County Nixed Spending $1.5 million For Fire Retrofits In Backcountry

 June 29, 2021 at 10:13 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 When wind-driven wildfires, breakout flying embers can travel nearly a mile, sparking new fires and destroying homes. One way to cut down that risk is by retrofitting house vents to make them Amber resistant. In 2019, the San Diego county board of supervisors approved a one and a half million dollar program to help homeowners pay for vent retrofits. But now that program has been abandoned and the money diverted elsewhere joining me to explain is I knew source reporter, Cammie Von canal, and Cammie. Welcome to the program. Thank you. Now, in what areas of the county would homeowners have been eligible for these county grants? Speaker 2: 00:44 Yeah, so a proposal the county put together would have focused these grants in areas of Eastern north county at high fire risk, uh, prioritizing Palomar mountain Mount Laguna and the lake fire burn area. Um, and these people would have been eligible for a grant to cover up to half of the cost of upgrading the vents or up to a $1,150 company who produces events, told me that the average cost of buying and installing these vents in San Diego county is around $2,300. As Speaker 1: 01:18 I understand it, the vent program was abandoned by the county before any money was actually spent. Where did the money go Speaker 2: 01:26 Around a third of that one and a half million has already been spent mostly on the purchase of two master caters, which are giant equipment to kind of, uh, two up and clear brush, like alongside roads. The rest is already has already been allocated to other programs. Uh, the most of it will go towards expanding the county's Knox box program. And the Knox box is a box of fixed on people's homes that gives emergency responders access to spare home keys in case of a medical or fire emergency. Now, Speaker 1: 01:58 When we talked with wildfire prevention experts on this program, they've always mentioned the importance of installing Ember resistant vents to slow the spread of wildfire. Why was this county reimbursement program abandoned? Speaker 2: 02:13 Yeah, the problem that the county encountered was that they went out to look for a contractor to run the program and they didn't get any bids on their proposal. And the contractors who were potentially interested told them that they thought that there wouldn't be enough interest out there in a partial reimbursement. So county staffers made a calculated decision to spend the money elsewhere on projects that would have the most impact on the most people as well is what they told me. And, um, I spoke to a couple people at Cal fire and the county and deputy chief Dave Nissen told me that his focus point is providing safe evacuation corridors. Now they didn't dismiss the importance of the vents. They said that they would continue to emphasize the importance of, and other sort of home hardening upgrades to people in various education programs. Speaker 1: 03:06 And you also spoke with a woman who runs an event retrofit company who told you her company could have been tapped for this program? Speaker 2: 03:14 Yeah, so Kelly compass, co-founded this company called brand guard vents. And she said she communicated with the county two years ago when they were first putting this project proposal together about the cost events. Um, and she didn't know the program had been abandoned. Um, she said her, her business is spiking right now. And that there's this growing push to focus on home, hardening both at the state level at the insurance company level. So here she is, you've Speaker 3: 03:41 Got, you know, local jurisdictions, state jurisdictions recognizing the problems with ventilation. And you've also got insurance companies that are recognizing the huge risk of ventilation in a home during a wildfire. Speaker 1: 03:55 And meanwhile, SDG and E is helping homeowners in the area of the sunrise Powerlink to do exactly the same kind of Ember resistant retrofitting. How was that going? Speaker 2: 04:06 Yeah, so the sunrise Powerlink grants can cover a variety of things, including defensible space structure hardening, and the Ember resistant vents. Ember resistant vent grant has been available since since 2018 as a priority and around 600 homeowners have installed vents through, through that program. But it's only people who live near the sunrise Powerlink who are eligible for that grant. Speaker 1: 04:30 Now state government is putting together a plan to help homeowners to harden their homes against wildfire. Would that include installing new vents? Speaker 2: 04:39 So there will be around $25 million coming through Cal fire and Callow. Yes, the office of emergency services starting in January of next year to help people harden their homes. Now the details aren't available yet on exactly what that would mean, but, uh, vents are one of the primary ways to harden your home. So, um, you know, we'll keep our eyes on that. Speaker 1: 05:06 Okay. As the state moves forward with a program to harden homes against wildfire, there will probably be a lot of areas in San Diego eligible for some help. How much of San Diego is considered vulnerable to wildfire? Speaker 2: 05:21 So according to the county's hazard mitigation plan, roughly 87% of the people of the population is at some risk for wildfire. And that includes moderate risk. Um, but in, in the, in the unincorporated areas, 91% of people are at very high fire risk. Um, and so county-wide, that's 78,000 homes that are at, um, high to extreme fire risk. I've Speaker 1: 05:48 Been speaking with I news source reporter Cammie Von canal, Cammie, thank you so much. Thank you. Cammy is an emerging journalist who covers the back country for our

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About 66,200 homes in the region’s fire-prone backcountry, including Palomar Mountain, Mount Laguna and Julian, would have been eligible for the county’s ember-resistant vents grant program. But it never got off the ground.
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