Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Residents learn about wildfire preparedness

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

Close to 200 area residents received life-saving information on Saturday, March 25, at the first Wildfire Preparedness Symposium in the Fallbrook High School Library. The room was filled to standing room only capacity. Several speakers reminded residents that it wasn't a matter if another big wildfire hits the area, but when.

Another common theme was to have a plan, with the presenters giving examples.

Several local emergency and community agencies made presentations at the meeting, hosted by the North County Fire Protection District. Chief Keith McReynolds served as emcee and reminded the residents of the major fires in the area. In 2003, it was the Cedar fire, followed by the Rice fire in 2007 and the Lilac fire in 2017. Even smaller fires, he said, are like a war zone.

Speakers were given about 10 minutes each to explain their role in prevention. After all the speakers, residents were encouraged to visit tables where agencies had information and representatives could answer questions.

Robyn Brookshire of San Diego Gas & Electric was the first presenter and explained the utility company's Public Safety Power Shutoff program. She urged residents to stay informed about dangerous conditions by keeping their contact information for outage notifications and other information up to date.

There are usually multiple notifications. The company sends alerts by voice, text and/or email. Residents who may not have an account with SDG&E because there is a master meter can still sign up for the service.

She noted that the Fallbrook Library has been established as the community center during an emergency. Water, ice, charging stations and other resources will be available, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Brookshire also explained that the delay in restoring power after a shut-off is because all the power lines in the area must be inspected.

Corporal Tim Clark of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said they are often first on the scene of a fire because they get the calls and can respond more quickly with deputies in the field. Deputies give an assessment of the fire to fire agencies and begin house-to-house checks if necessary.

"When you're asked to leave, leave," he said. "That's why being prepared is essential. Our responsibility is to keep people out of the danger zone."

He also cautioned people to not use the 911 number for general information because it's an emergency number.

Heather Mitchell, crime prevention specialist with the Fallbrook Sheriff's substation, said the best way to be current about emergencies is through social media on the department's Twitter or Facebook pages.

McReynolds added that social media information about emergencies is also posted on the NCFPD web page.

Robert Gutierrez of the Rainbow Municipal Water District and Isabelle Casteran of the Fallbrook Public Utilities District also spoke. Gutierrez noted the cooperation of different agencies in assisting fire personnel. "We have so many small districts, it's important that we work together," he said.

Casteran urged residents to update their contact information with the agency she represents and others.

Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez, superintendent of the Fallbrook Union High School District, said their primary concern is that students are safe and secure. The district – and others in the region – have protection and evacuation plans coordinated with the state and each school has a safety plan.

The superintendent urged residents to have their own safety plan and to be sure their schools have current contact information.

Barbara Ayers of the Office of Emergency Services in San Diego explained the state agency's role, saying rural areas are challenging and fires pose an extreme risk. She told residents to make an emergency kit, have a plan, and stay informed.

The emergency kit should be ready and placed in the home and/or vehicle. She said it should include plans for taking care of any animals or pets.

Ayers suggested having readily available "go kits," laptop computers and storage drives, key documents, and a way to calm animals. If in doubt, leave early, she said. A RV is also an effective path for safety, she added.

She suggested residents find current information on https://alertsd.org/.

Chief Frank Bigelow of San Diego Cal Fire said the cooperation of agencies in the area is fantastic.

His tools for success in an emergency were basic:

1. Ready: An emergency could happen at any time.

2. Get set: Have an emergency plan.

3. Go: If notified or in doubt, leave for safety.

Bigelow said the agency's goal is to keep 95% of fires to 10 acres or less, and that they have the resources – tankers, helicopters and the military if needed – to attain that mark.

Capt. Eddie Jones of NCFPD noted the community's resilience and noted how people like to help others out. He urged residents to know their neighbors who may need help during an emergency and assist if possible.

Among the other agencies represented but not making a formal presentation was the Fallbrook Amateur Radio Club, which posts emergency ham radio communication on its web page, https://www.fallbrookarc.org/. A representative at the group's table said 820 people followed the Lilac fire accounts on its website.

McReynolds said plans are to repeat this event in the future. A video of the symposium can be viewed at https://youtu.be/311MFeGyyoo

 

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