Report on fire response next step for county

The May 13-16 fires illustrated the strengths of some of the county’s fire protection programs while also exposing vulnerabilities, and an analysis of the fires and the county’s response will be forthcoming.

“The after-action report, I think, is the most important thing,” said county supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Jacob, who is this year’s San Diego County Board of Supervisors chair, made remarks about the fire, the county’s preparedness and response, and the need for an after-action report at the May 20 Board of Supervisors meeting. The comments were not associated with a voting item.

“We want to know what we could have done better,” Jacob said. “That’s the next thing we’re going to be tackling.”

Helen Robbins-Meyer, the county’s chief administrative officer, will provide the report with the help of her staff. Jacob hopes to have the report by the June 17 Board of Supervisors meeting. “That’s pretty fast turnaround for everybody, but I think there is a sense of urgency here,” Jacob said. “It’s clear we have year-round fire risk.”

For the 10-year period concluding with the October 2007 fires, 11 of the 14 worst fires in the county in terms of acres burned (including separate fires burning simultaneously in October 2003 and October 2007) started in September or October; the exceptions were the January 2001 Viejas Fire, the February 2002 Gavilan Fire, and the July 2002 Pines Fire. The 10-year period excludes the September 1970 Laguna Fire, which was the county’s worst prior to 2003, and the November 1956 Inaja Fire which involved the most firefighter fatalities.

The Board of Supervisors began its fire protection programs even prior to the 2003 fires; in 1999 the county began committing $400,000 annually for capital and equipment needs of the fire service. In 2006 an agreement with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection allowed for year-round staffing at nine additional CalFire stations as well as the five stations which had been staffed year-round. The San Diego County Regional Fire Authority was created in 2008. The county has also funded brush removal programs and two firefighting helicopters.

“That investment has paid off, and we saw that,” Jacob said.

“I’d say we’re the best prepared we’ve ever been. It’s the best-orchestrated effort we’ve ever seen,” Jacob said of the response to the May 2014 fires.

The work to be done on the May 2014 fires also includes determining how they started. “The investigations of these fires are ongoing,” Jacob said.

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