Fire wake-up call comes early

Ramonans scrambled as 10 wildfires fueled by drought, heat and Santa Ana winds raged through North County last week causing power outages, blowing smoke and ash into town, and closing schools for two days.

Residents, fearing fire would spread to or start in Ramona, cleared grocery shelves of water and other emergency supplies and lined up at gas stations to fill their vehicles. Concern that an arsonist had set the blazes had the region on high alert as the governor declared a state of emergency in the county.

“Although the North County fires never reached our local school boundary, the wind and air quality on Friday raised a very high level of concern for Ramona residents,” Ramona Unified School District Superintendent Robert Graeff said in an online communication with the school community on Sunday. “Additionally, we have more than 200 school employees who live down the hill in neighboring communities where the fires were a genuine and present danger.”

Because the governor declared the county to be in a state of emergency, school employees will be paid for the days they were told not to come to work and the district will not have to make up the two lost days, the district reported. With school closed May 15 and 16, school trustees canceled their evening May 15 meeting and rescheduled it for 4 p.m. on Tuesday, May 27.

“Please take every precaution at your own home to safeguard your family for what appears to be just the start of a very long fire season,” Graeff said at the conclusion of his message that school would re-open on Monday, May 19.

Ramona resident Philip Garnett captures a scene from the Bernardo fire as it nears a home last Tuesday, the day the first of 10 fires in the county ignited.

As multiple fires popped up around the county and Ramona experienced power outages, Ramona Municipal Water District and the Ramona Fire Department/Cal Fire went on alert, realizing the need to prepare for what could be a long, dangerous wildfire season.

“This could be a good indication of what we’re going to see for the season,” Battalion Chief and Fire Marshal Steve Foster said. “For this time of year we should be May gray, and we’re not.”

David Barnum, district manager, said the water district had prepared its Emergency Operations Center last week so it could be activated if necessary. That included setting up the Emergency Operations Conference room with computers, emergency materials, food, maps and other documents.

“If our system goes down, we can access the schematics of the agency,” noted Barnum.

Backup generators were deployed if needed for water or sewer operations due to power outages. On Wednesday night, May 14, district staff was on call and some employees took district vehicles home so they could respond quickly in case of an emergency, said Barnum. The district also was in contact with peer agencies in case additional resources were needed.

To prepare for possible wildfires, Foster said the fire department has been working with residents on defensible space ­— clearing 100 feet around structures of any combustible vegetation.

“This is the number one thing that’s going to prepare and save your home in a wildfire,” he said.

According to Battalion Chief Burke Kremensky, live fuel moistures remained low over the winter, and with the small amount of rainfall in the spring, vegetation remains critically dry for the fire season.

Residents are encouraged to register their cell phone numbers with Alert San Diego to receive emergency and evacuation notices. The reverse 911 calls that have been used for evacuation only work for landline phones, Foster said. To register, visit www.readysandiego.org/alertsandiego.

The fire marshal said that some lives are lost in wildfires because people do not leave when told to evacuate.

“We may not be able to come back and save you if fire reaches your home,” he said. “My opinion is if you get the evacuation order, it’s better to leave.”

Information on how to be prepared for wildfires and evacuation, and how to make a house more resistant to wildfires is at www.ReadyForWildfire.org.

The 10 fires in San Marcos, San Diego, Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, Bonsall and Camp Pendleton last week burned 27,000 acres and destroyed 39 homes in San Marcos, fire agencies reported

Related posts:

  1. Cal Fire relaunches wildfire preparedness website
  2. Cal Fire relaunches wildfire preparedness website
  3. Shockey Fire destroys 20 homes, Cal Fire reports
  4. Early morning fire guts residence on Mussey Grade
  5. Utility poles stall emergency evacuation route

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Posted by Maureen Robertson on May 21 2014. Filed under News, Ramona, Sheriff/Fire. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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