Now is the time to clear brush
Last updated 9/25/2007 at Noon
There was another small wildland fire last Friday along State Route 76 near Gird Road and another larger blaze this week just over the county line in the De Luz area. Fortunately, fire crews and air units quickly gained the upper hand and before long only the cleanup crews remained.
Even so, the fire department cannot always take on Mother Nature and win. The two most serious fire danger months – September and October – are here. It is the season for the wild Santa Ana winds to howl. It will take only a lightning strike or the careless flick of a cigarette butt or a welding torch to set huge areas of North County on fire.
In February 2002 a disastrous windswept fire raced through Fallbrook, and only three years ago a killer fire swept through huge sections of San Diego County. In each of those instances not even dozens of fire engines, helicopters and fire-retardant-dropping tankers could stop the fires. High temperatures, low relative humidity and gusting Santa Anas pushed those flames and embers along at speeds up to 4,000 feet per minute – a lot faster than a person can run or drive on some of North County’s winding, hilly roads.
Speaking of roads…surprise! There are several roads in North County that fire engines won’t travel in the event of a local wildland fire. Why? There is only one way in and out. Some go into the hills for miles and most have dozens of homes along either side of the road. The roads simply dead end somewhere.
So, in the middle of a wildland conflagration no fire chief is going to allow fire equipment to go down a road where there is no escape route. That possibility alone ought to be enough incentive to make affected homeowners clear out 200 feet of brush, not just the mandated 100 feet! Only an aerial assault can possibly save these properties, and that cannot be guaranteed.
Here’s another goody: if a homeowner has built a bridge over a culvert or stream, there’s a good chance the fire department won’t let their engines go over it – unless it has been designed by a competent engineering firm. During the Gavilan inferno a fire engine broke through a homemade bridge. Clunk! One fire truck out of commission and a road blocked.
At the top of some long, beautiful winding North County driveways fire engines do not have room to turn around and escape. Don’t expect a fire officer to risk the lives of his crew and a $250,000 engine because backing down a driveway is not an option.
And on some of those same North County driveways homeowners have allowed tree limbs to grow over and the brush to grow outward, making it impossible to get a fire engine close to homes. If the fire department cannot get to the fire, they cannot put it out. Twelve to 15 feet of vertical clearance and 10 to 12 feet of lateral clearance are required along driveways.
Residents should not wait any longer. They should take care of brush clearance problems now!
Ken Munson was a volunteer fire captain for 19 years with the Orange County Fire Authority and served a term as chairman of the California State Firefighters’ Association Committee for Volunteers. He retired in 1997. He moved to Fallbrook just after the Gavilan Fire and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the North County Fire Protection District. He writes as a private citizen.