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Lessons Learned From the West Fire & Paradise Fire: Roads Have an Impact on Fire Prevention and Safety

By George Barnett

February 2019 – As someone that has been evacuated four times in 20 years due to fire threat, that experience caused me to jot down “my thoughts” on fire preparedness in Alpine, and to try to draw some comparisons between what has been learned from the West Fire and what has been apparently learned so far from the Paradise Fire.

This is an important matter, and I hope the attached is informative….

Learning from the West Fire & the Paradise Fire

There seems to be no formal reports yet on both fires. But observations are being made by the media. What are the differences between these two fires according to the media?

Wiki records that residential development in wildland-urban interface areas such as Paradise and its vicinity are often located in state responsibility areas, where the State of California provides primary fire prevention and suppression. Paradise was served by a mix of its local fire department and the State’s CalFire.

Alpine is accountable for its fire prevention and firefighting through the Alpine Fire Protection District. Being an unincorporated township, Alpine has fallback support from the San Diego County Fire Authority. By agreement with all its neighboring sister agencies, Alpine Fire is in the process of annexing east Alpine so as to improve service in that rural area of the town.

The Paradise Fire Department webpage records, “By contracting with CAL FIRE the Town of Paradise (sic – double the population of Alpine) is able to staff two fire stations with three-person engine companies, and one station with a two-person engine company.

Alpine Fire Protection District strives to maintain four-person engine companies. The National Fire Protection Association suggests five-person engine companies in critically dangerous areas when weather conditions are severe. Alpine is also served by the County Fire Authority fire station in Harbison Canyon, the US Forest Service fire station on east Alpine Boulevard, Viejas Fire Department, and by the Sycuan Fire Department. And the eight-station Heartland Fire & Rescue Service serving El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove is an important back-up.

The Union Tribune reports, “A Los Angeles Times investigation found that Paradise ignored repeated warnings of the risk its residents faced, crafted no plan to evacuate the area all at once, entrusted public alerts to a system vulnerable to fire, and did not sound citywide orders to flee even as a hail of fire rained down… But interviews and records released by the city and county show the emergency warning system failed on many levels…. Most residents said they relied on word of mouth, emergency vehicles driving down their streets with loudspeakers, or the sight of flames.”

Among other systems, Alpine is served by the County’s “AlertSanDiego” for disaster notification. Based on 9-1-1 data, it has Voice over IP, cellular, and email connectivity. And more recently has as associated App allowing families and friends to network. As with the County Fire Agency, this notification system evolved after Supervisor Diane Jacob observed critical inter-agency communications difficulties during the 2003 Cedar Fire. Alpine Fire also participates in the Heartland Communications Agency which provides sophisticated dispatching of multiple response agencies for firefighting and medical emergency on an East County regional basis.

The Union-Tribune also reports of citizens in Paradise blocked into dead-end roads unable to escape in their vehicles due to traffic congestion on the main connecting roads. This observation applies to Alpine, a linear town flowing west and east with few lateral roadway connections.

The Alpine Sun reported, “President Neville Connell of the Greater Alpine Fire Safe Council revealed that research after Alpine’s West Fire on July 6 shows that roads have an impact on fire prevention and safety. The blaze destroyed or damaged 38 homes and 36 other buildings. There was very little damage to buildings on east-west roads in the fire area, but defending structures on roads that “spread out like fingers” was more difficult and those buildings were more prone to damage, Connell said. “It provided us with some very interesting conclusions in how (sic- residential) development should go forward in Alpine,” he said.

How has Alpine responded to that traffic circulation threat? After vigorous discussion at town hall meetings and workshops, this language was approved as a core Policy & Goal for the Alpine Community Plan. “Support the establishment of alternative means of ingress/egress to/from Pal o Verde Ranch and/or other existing neighborhoods.” Further at the last Community Plan workshop, Alpiners reviewed and commented on several proposed lateral roadways, especially across east Alpine. (see below chart)

Despite the Herculean efforts of dedicated, heroic people trying to save Paradise, a town twice the size of Alpine was destroyed. Paradise’s population h ad been basically flat the past quarter century. It would seem that available firefighting resources were limited compare d to those available to Alpine. It would seem that

Emergency alert systems were deficient. It would seem that road and traffic circulation limited emergency egress and ingress.

Alpine is half the size of Paradise, and is growing in population. Firefighting resources available to Alpine are greater, and expansion to the east of Al pine is under way. County emergency communications and East County joint agency dispatch systems are modern and becoming state of the art through wireless smart phone Apps. Still, Alpine took a big hit from the West Fire, and that seems attributable in part to the town’s limited roadway networks. But Alpine recognizes that, and its residents have approved Goals & Policies to improve that limitation a cross the town, and especially in the more rural eastern areas; and they are making plans to improve traffic networks and emergency ingress/egress.

Does that guarantee there will never be another wild fire? Of course not! But the town, its people and its firefighting and emergency service Agencies are planning to improve fire protection and firefighting as the town inevitably grows.

WEST FIRE Survivors Support Meeting at the Alpine Library – February 6, 2019

Attention West Fire Survivors!

You are invited to a support meeting at the Alpine Library (1752 Alpine blvd.) on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 from 6:30pm to 7:30pm. Hosted by the Fired Up Sisters of Southern California.

We are a Women’s support group comprised of Women who all have lost our homes in wildfires. We want to help each other navigate through the emotional rebuilding of our lives. ALL WEST FIRE SURVIVORS ARE INVITED.

Learn more about is at www.firedupsisters.com

 

GOT POWER? Be Prepared for the NEXT POWER OUTAGE! Learn About Generators, Solar Battery Backup & More – December 6, 2018

Be prepared! The Alpine Library is hosting a forum to learn more about generators, solar battery backup, and other residential emergency power options. Local businesses including Bay City Electric Works, Clay Electric, and Kamp’s Propane will be here to answer your questions. Join us for this free event on Thursday December 6, 2018 at 5:30 pm. The Alpine Library is located at 1752 Alpine Blvd Alpine, CA 91901. For more info please call us at (619) 445-4221 or email albranch1752@gmail.com

EMERGENCY INFORMATION: Wildfire Smoke and Face Masks for Protection in Dangerous Conditions

Surgical and dust masks WILL NOT protect you from the dangers of breathing Wildfire smoke… Choose a mask called a “particulate respirator”.

Wildfire smoke can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. It can make you cough and wheeze, and can make it hard to breathe. If you have asthma or another lung disease, or heart disease, inhaling wildfire smoke can be especially harmful. If you cannot leave the smoky area, good ways to protect your lungs from wildfire smoke include staying indoors and reducing physical activity.

Wearing a special mask called a “particulate respirator” can also help protect your lungs from wildfire smoke  Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 provide some protection – they filter ‐ out fine particles but not hazardous gases (such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and acrolein). This type of mask can be found at many hardware and home repair stores and pharmacies and online. Your local health agency may also have these masks.

Choose an N95 or N100 mask that has two straps that go around your head. Don’t choose a one ‐ strap paper dust mask or a surgical mask that hooks around your ears – these don’t protect against the fine particles in smoke. Choose a size that fits over your nose and head and under your chin. It should seal tightly to your face. Please note that these masks don’t come in sizes that fit young children and will not seal well. They also will not seal well on people with beards.

Don’t use bandanas or towels (wet or try) or tissue held over the mouth and nose. These may relieve dryness but they won’t protect your lungs. Using a respirator mask can make it harder to breathe, which may make the existing medical conditions worse as it takes extra effort to breath through them and can make it uncomfortable to use them for very long.

Throw away your mask when breathing through it gets difficult, if it gets damaged or if the inside gets dirty. Use a new mask every day if you can. For more information, search for “wildfire smoke” on www.doh.wa.gov

 

Donations Needed for the “Emergency Food Pantry” at the Alpine Community Center

The Alpine Community Center has been an “Emergency Food Pantry” for the Alpine community for the past 6 years. Recently we noticed a marked increase in requests for assistance and we depend solely on donations to stock this Pantry. Until now the major donor to this cause has been Alpine’s Christ the King Episcopal Church. We now require additional donations to keep up with the need.

The type of foods we are able to store and distribute are nonperishable items such as canned tuna, chicken, vegetables, chili, peanut butter, crackers, beans, rice, pasta, etc. We also need pet food and personal hygiene products. Please check expiration dates before donating items.

Donations can be delivered to the Alpine Community Center on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays between the hours of 9 am and 4 pm and on Fridays between the hours of 9 am and 1 pm. We also accept monetary donations which will be used to purchase food items.

Thank you,

Cindi Robertson
Operations Manager
Alpine Community Center

1830 Alpine Blvd., Alpine Ca 91901
619-445-7330
crobertson@alpinecommunitycenter.com

SDG&E Engages Giant Aircrane Year-Round for ‘New Normal’ Fire Season

SDG&E’s Caroline Winn announces plans for year-round use of the giant Erickson Aircrane. Photo by Chris Jennewein

*Article shared from The Times of San Diego

With San Diego now experiencing a continuous fire season, San Diego Gas & Electric announced Wednesday it has contracted for year-round use of a giant Erickson Aircrane helicopter tanker.

“We are working hard to mitigate the risks associated with this ‘new normal’ of a year-round wildfire season and trying to protect the people and communities we serve,” said Caroline Winn, SDG&E’s chief operating officer, in making the announcement.

The Aircrane can carry 2,650 gallons of water — seven times the capacity of other fire-fighting helicopters — and refill from a lake in 45 seconds. The giant orange craft is flown by Erickson pilots under the direction of Cal Fire.

The utility has engaged an Aircrane during the traditional three-month fire season for the past eight years, but Winn said San Diego County is now in the “year-round grip” of wildfires.

“The SDG&E Aircrane has been and will continue to be a game-changer for Cal Fire,” said San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham. “To have this critical tool available to us during the early stages of a fire has already had a very real impact on fires this year.”

In addition, to year-round use of the Aircrane, Winn also announced that the utility is taking steps to help customers whose power must be cut during a wildfire emergency. She said the utility is installing equipment to reduce the number of circuits affected, and planning for nine centers where residents can go for information, snacks and to charge cellphones.

The utility is making use of remote cameras and weather equipment to track fires, and on Wednesday unveiled a public web page with this information at sdge.com/wildfire-safety.

Winn said increasing use of the giant Aircrane already this year has made the craft something of a local attraction. She announced a Twitter handle for people to follow the craft’s activity at @SkyMaverickSDGE.

The giant Erickson Aircrane dwarfs people at its hanger in El Cajon. Photo by Chris Jennewein

 

Local Emergency Ends for West Fire

Local Emergency Ends for West Fire

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The County of San Diego proclaimed a local emergency on July 6 for the West Fire in Alpine. The proclamation allows the County to request all federal and state assistance available to help fight the fire and rebuild. Current conditions no longer warrant a local emergency and therefore the Local Emergency for the West Fire has expired, effective midnight September 6.

Immediately following the West Fire, the County set up a Local Assistance Center at the Alpine Library to provide information and resources for residents who were affected by the fire. These resources included information on rebuilding, dealing with insurance, safe handling of ash and debris, and various other programs and assistance from governmental and nongovernmental partners.

During the recovery process, all 38 of the properties with destroyed structures have initiated or finalized clean-up of the fire debris and ash on their private properties. The County assisted fire survivors in recovery by providing debris bins in the community that resulted in approximately 1,570 cubic yards, or nearly 160 dump trucks, of ash and debris being removed from the impacted areas. There were 114 vehicles burned in the West Fire, for which the County was able to offer a free vehicle abatement for the vehicle owners.

Any residents affected by the West Fire who still need assistance with rebuilding should visit https://www.sdcountyrecovery.com for information and resources.

Would You Know How to Respond if Your Child Drowned? Host a CPR Class in Your Home

August 2018 – Now that summer is here and people are using their pools I want to encourage pool owners to learn CPR. On the news almost everyday I see where kids have drown or near drownings. Saved only by someone who knew how to perform CPR. Recently Olympic Ski Racer Bode Miller’s daughter drowned land his family is devastated.

Would you know how to respond if your child drowned?

From Memorial Day through Labor Day 2017, at least 163 children younger than 15 fatally drowned in swimming pools or spas, according to media reports compiled by the USA Swimming Foundation. Of the 163 reports, 112 of the victims were younger than five years old.

Each of these deaths is a tragedy, which serves as a sobering reminder of how dangerous water can be for young children. If you own a pool and do not know how to perform CPR then you may want to think about hosting a CPR Pool Safety Party at your home with family, friends and neighbors.

The CPR Class is free for the host. Carlette Anderson, Alpine resident and founder of Save-A-Heart, has been teaching CPR for almost 40 years. Her CPR class is about an hour and she includes pool safety.

She says, “Children as young as ten years old can learn CPR and basic pool safety. If you have never learned how to perform CPR or you want to re-certify then please call Save-A-Heart today 619-445-4569.

You can also get certified in CPR online www.cprpros.com

 

 

 

C.A.R.e Insurance Information Meeting for West Fire Survivors at the Alpine Library – August 28, 2018

  • Should I sign that?
  • What is a public adjuster?
  • What is underinsurance?
  • What duties do I have to my insurer?
  • What is a scope of loss?
  • How do I make my personal property inventory more manageable?

The Alpine Library is located at 1752 Alpine Blvd Alpine, CA 91901. For more info please call us at (619) 445-4221 or email albranch1752@gmail.com Visit our website at www.sdcl.org

C.A.R.e Insurance Information Meeting for West Fire Survivors at the Alpine Library – July 31, 2018

  • Should I sign that?
  • What is a public adjuster?
  • What is underinsurance?
  • What duties do I have to my insurer?
  • What is a scope of loss?
  • How do I make my personal property inventory more manageable?

The Alpine Library is located at 1752 Alpine Blvd Alpine, CA 91901. For more info please call us at (619) 445-4221 or email albranch1752@gmail.com Visit our website at www.sdcl.org