Firefighters bracing for fires that could resemble 2007 fire eve - KUSI News - San Diego, CA

Firefighters bracing for fires that could resemble 2007 fire event

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SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — A wildfire warning prompted by strong Santa Ana winds and near-negligible humidity levels kept the San Diego area an high alert Wednesday as destructive, out-of-control wildfires driven by similar conditions tore through parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service and the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index raised the "red flag'' warning to a "purple flag" warning, signifying potentially "extreme'' combustion hazards in local coastal, inland-valley and mountain communities. 

Additionally, the federal agency lengthened an accompanying high-wind warning for the county's valleys and mountains by 24 hours, moving back its scheduled expiration to 4 p.m. Friday.

The most critical fire hazards likely will occur Thursday and Friday, forecasters said.

On the upside, mild temperatures are expected to help mitigate the fire danger somewhat, though significant risk will remain due to the strong winds and humidity levels in the 5- to 15-percent range, the NWS advised.

To prepare for the dicey conditions, both the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and San Diego Gas & Electric beefed up staffing levels this week.

The former agency put several extra strike teams — equipped with 10 brush rigs, five engines, two water trucks and two helicopters — on alert, while SDG&E officials staged field crews and contract firefighters in areas where winds are expected to be the strongest.

"Meteorologists at the National Weather Service have not seen models for a Santa Ana event like this in many years,'' San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said. "We are being vigilant in up-staffing to protect San Diegans and their property. We ask that residents practice their evacuation plans and be prepared in case of a wildfire.''

SDG&E — which last week lost a ruling in relation to the 2007 wildfires the company was found responsible for starting — said it may need to turn off power this week in certain areas "if weather conditions threaten the integrity of our system and create the possibility of an imminent emergency.''

Several years of drought coupled with heavy rains last winter have led to significant fire fuel in the form of underbrush and grass, and a lack of recent rainfall coupled with frequent low humidity have dried out the extra fuel, making it ready to burn freely, according to firefighting officials.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department also increased their staffing this week as a result of the threat level.

“Meteorologists at the National Weather Service have not seen models for a Santa Ana event like this in many years,” said Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. “We are being vigilant in upstaffing to protect San Diegans and their property. We ask that residents practice their evacuation plans and be prepared in case of a wildfire.”

SDFD upstaffing means an increase in the number of personnel as well as apparatus available for fire suppression efforts. Here is a summary of upstaffing levels for next week. Please keep in mind that these apparatus and personnel are in addition to the daily staffing requirements.

  • Two Strike Teams of ten brush rigs each. Each brush rig carries a crew of four firefighters. A strike team leader and strike team leader trainee are assigned to each Strike Team.
  • One Strike Team of five standard fire engines. Each engine carries a crew of four firefighters each. A strike team leader and strike team leader trainee are assigned to this Strike Team.
  • Two water tenders – one firefighter per water tender
  • Two helicopters available around the clock. The helicopters include pilots, mechanics and a firefighter to staff the fuel tender.

An additional Strike Team (brush rigs) will be added because of elevated fire threat conditions in our area. This Strike Team matches the configuration of the previously mentioned team and will be available for any incident within the limits of the County of San Diego. Brush rigs are large off-road capable fire apparatus which carry between 600 and 1500 gallons of water. Water tenders carry 3000 gallons of water and provide water supply to engines at vegetation fires.

SDFD will increase dispatcher and dispatch supervisor staffing in our Emergency Command & Data Center.

Additional apparatus for SDFD Air Operations are a fixed-wing air tactical plane and pilot. The pilot acts as the coordinator of the air and ground attack on a fire incident. General Atomics is also prepared to respond to our city or a regional emergency incident with their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) fixed-wing aircraft. This aircraft collects a variety of information including photos and video. This information can be used in strategic fire suppression efforts.

SDFD is prepared and reminds San Diegans to be prepared as well. Practicing an evacuation plan in advance of an emergency can mean the difference between injury and death. Often, wildland fire-related deaths occur because people wait too long to leave their homes. 

  • Leaving early will give residents the best chance of surviving a wildland fire. It’s not necessary to wait until public safety personnel ask you to leave.
  • Public safety personnel can perform their jobs more efficiently if they don’t have to fight traffic congestion.
  • If evacuation notifications are issued, please don’t hesitate to leave.
  • Pack valuable items, medications, pet food, etc. in advance in order to be ready to leave immediately if necessary.
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