Preparing for peak fire season

As CalFire ramps up to peak staffing and thoughts turn to the hot, dry days ahead, Ramona residents will have a couple of new arrows in their fire prevention quivers.

The most exciting change for the CalFire personnel stationed at the Ramona Air Attack Base will be a new, experimental infrared camera that can “see through smoke.” In July the camera — the first of its kind in the state — will be installed in the air-attack plane of CalFire Battalion Chief Ray Chaney and it will give those directing firefighting efforts a better idea of what is happening on the ground.

“Because of its infrared capability, it will be easier to spot fires and to locate equipment on the ground by the hot exhausts or hot engines,” Chaney said. “And if I’m too busy and don’t have the time to manipulate the camera, we’re trying to design the experiment so that commanders on the ground, using a computer in their vehicle, will be able to move the camera around and focus on a certain area. They will be able to take control of panning the camera and see what’s happening in real time.”

And maybe best of all in this cash-strapped era, the experiment is not going to cost the state a dime for the camera or its installation.It was developed by researchers from the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who were looking for a partner to test their new technology.

“This is mutually beneficial for MIT and for us,” Chaney said. “And we’re hoping that this is the first of many new endeavors to come.”

Although the experiment with the infrared camera will end in December, Chaney said that “more than likely” MIT will leave the camera installed in the aircraft.

“That would be great, but we can’t start going down the road of spending thousands of dollars maintaining equipment that has not been budgeted for,” he said. “We must be frugal with the taxpayers’ money.”  

But he is excited about seeing what the camera can do.

The second ‘first’ for this year’s firefighting efforts is a new “Before the Threat” awareness campaign that will target 400,000 homes in San Diego County’s high-risk areas. In mid-July, about 3,000 volunteers will go door-to-door to drop off a package containing a DVD and other information about fire prevention and preparedness.

Ramona Municipal Water District Fire Marshal/CalFire Capt. Saul Villagomez  said that about 4,000 homes in Ramona “in the most hazardous areas” are scheduled to receive the packets, depending on the number of volunteers who can be found to make the deliveries. (Residents who wish to help may contact volunteersandiego.org.)  

A similar DVD was developed last year in the San Miguel Fire District as a pilot project and it was such a success that the decision was made “to take the project countywide,” said Yvette Urrea Moe of the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services (OES). This “first-time regional effort” was made possible by a $200,000 grant from Farmers Insurance Group, in cooperation with OES and the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association.  

“After reviewing the Before the Threat package, residents will have a better understanding of what to do before, during and after a wildfire,” said Augie Ghio, president of the Fire Chiefs Association.  

“During the 2007 fires, we saw that defensible space works,” said OES Director Ron Lane. “The homes that were still standing in the fire perimeter area all had defensible space. The 1,700 homes that burned had a flaw in their defensible space and that’s what we are hoping to address with our campaign. We are asking residents to take action now before the threat.”

In addition to the DVD, the packets will contain a checklist for taking an inventory of property in the home and a link to an online wildfire awareness guide, which is available in English or Spanish. And the DVD has Spanish subtitles “in an effort to reach everyone,” Urrea Moe said.

The packet will encourage residents to sign up for Alert San Diego, a listing for cell phones that complements the existing reverse-911 system. And information from wildfirezone.org will identify all local fire districts and departments so residents can inquire about regulations in their own area.

“Fire codes differ from one region to another,” Urrea Moe said. “For example, 100 feet of defensible space is a general guideline, but some areas don’t have that much space available and in some areas, it’s 150 feet. It’s all relative to where you live and the topography of the land.”

But Urrea Moe said that all the fire officials agree on one thing: “The fire season here is year-round. Things can change quickly in a matter of days. A really hot spell can put us at a critical level in no time. It’s just the way things are around here.”  

   
-

Comments

Be relevant, respectful, honest, discreet and responsible. Commenting Rules