By Darrell Beck
The Witch Creek Wildfire of October 2007 was by far the worst local disaster in my lifetime going back over 70 years. Everyone I know has a story to tell about their experiences with this terrible tragedy that destroyed 501 homes in Ramona alone, changed lives forever and cost perhaps billions in property damage.
Making the tragedy worse for its victims is the knowledge that this was a wildfire that was clearly predictable and preventable. This was a wildfire that, according to Cal Fire, began when power lines without spreaders clashed together in the backcountry during powerful Santa Ana winds, igniting a heavy fuel load of unmanaged brush creating a conflagration that destroyed practically everything in its path including the power lines that deliver electricity to the Ramona pump station and that supplies water to Ramona.
At this time there are some people who are rebuilding, but there are also plenty of people who have been unable to restore their losses for various reasons. We have been lucky to have so many good friends, neighbors, relatives, local businesses and an insurance agent who helped us get through our loss, and we will be eternally grateful to everyone who came to our side during this time of great despair.
We have rebuilt, but we have also come to realize that it is time to take action and make sure we do everything possible to prevent fire disasters and to be more prepared when we can’t.
Because of our loss of a lifetime, my interest in community affairs, my familiarity with the local water district and past fire service experience, I have placed my name on the November ballot seeking a seat on the Ramona Municipal Water District, Division One. It will be my primary goal to influence local and regional agencies in an effort to advocate fire prevention and disaster preparedness for fire, flood and earthquake; to prioritize the vital need to be aware of and prepared for Red Flag warnings and to develop a public awareness program concerning individual responsibility for fire safety, evacuation and survival.
Although the economy looks bleak at this time, I want to see if there is community support to develop emergency water supplies, storage, pipelines and related pumping and electrical facilities.
Currently there are several other fire and growth related issues being considered. First, county taxpayers are being asked to approve a $52 parcel tax (Prop. A) being levied to support more fire protection. I am opposed to this tax, because I believe from my own experience while living with wildfire over the past 70 years, that there is no amount of funding, manpower, equipment, aircraft or water that can be raised that will stop or control a Santa Ana driven wildfire.
Case in point: The fire authorities that were assigned to stand by and protect our secure property were helpless to save our own home surrounded by plenty of defensible space from burning to the ground as an engine and crew stood by on duty some 30 hours after the main fire blew through. If they are unable to defend property under reasonable circumstances such as this example, why should we believe that more taxes will improve security for people who live in or near the brush?
Second, the Montecito Ranch project is currently being proposed for Ramona. This housing project is comprised of 935 acres planned to create 417 “clustered” residential units; 579 acres will be taken by the county as open space for a conservation easement.
The project is located just north of the Ramona airport on Montecito Way extending to the west end of Ash Street and will require water and sewer service from the RMWD as well as road access for approximately 5000 vehicles per day. Presently the only road access is on Ash at State 78 and Montecito at State 67, both of which will direct traffic right back onto Main Street.
In 1991 the Montecito project, then owned by Chevron Corp. was approved by the RCPG with a secondary road access out Montecito Road to Rangeland. However, Chevron sold out and since that time the County of San Diego has created a massive Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) which has allowed them to acquire thousands of acres of land surrounding the airport and declare it a sanctuary for endangered species and off-limits to reasonable public use, especially roads. This is called the Ramona Grasslands.
As a result, the county has eliminated future roads called SA603 and SA330 from the Ramona Community Plan that would have helped alleviate traffic in Ramona as well as providing secondary access to the Montecito project through the grasslands. It is my understanding that the State Fire Marshal has given his approval to the Montecito housing project without consideration for a secondary access. This will create intolerable conditions that will generate a massive traffic jam on Main Street in the event of an evacuation as well as adding congestion to the daily traffic mess in downtown Ramona.
In my opinion, approval of the Montecito project without providing a secondary emergency access would go against common sense, public safety and is definitely not a benefit to Ramona.
Darrell Beck is a Ramona resident.