The San Diego region is better equipped to fight a major wildfire today than it was 10 years ago, when the Cedar fire broke out and rampaged across the county, government and fire officials said Friday, Oct. 25, the 10th anniversary of the fire’s start.
The blaze killed 15 people, scorched more than 273,000 acres and destroyed more than 2,200 homes before it was extinguished weeks later — becoming the most destructive in state history.
“What you’ve seen over the last 10 years is that the city and the county have made substantial investments to make sure that we do have the equipment, that we have the air fighting capabilities and other needs ready ... to go,’’ Interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria told CBS8.
Gloria took part in a news conference in Scripps Ranch, where some neighborhoods were devastated by flames. Area fire agencies showed off their firefighting helicopters at the event.
The blaze started on a blistering hot fall day between Ramona and Julian when a lost hunter started a signal fire. The hunter was airlifted to safety, but the flames spread in hard-to-access terrain.
The fire consumed about 10 acres by sundown and remained relatively small well into the night. But strong Santa Ana winds sprang up after midnight, sweeping flames into through portions of San Diego Country Estates and into Wildcat Canyon — between Ramona and Lakeside.
Most of the deaths occurred in and around the canyon area, many as the victims attempted to escape. Survivors later told of waking up to flames already on their properties.
Another finger of the fire destroyed Ramona homes in the Mussey Grade area and raced into Scripps Ranch, where flames fed by combustible eucalyptus trees ravaged several neighborhoods. The westward march of flames went about halfway down the length of the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar before they were stopped.
When the Santa Ana winds died down — replaced by a sea breeze —the flames roared east, devastating small mountain communities near Julian and Lake Cuyamaca and killing firefighter Steven Rucker, of the Novato Fire Department north of San Francisco. Rucker was one of hundreds of fire personnel from throughout the state dispatched to battle the Cedar fire.
The East County mountains bear scars from the fire to this day, from denuded hillsides to huge stands of gray, broken trees standing on slopes near Lake Cuyamaca.
As bad as the Cedar fire was, firefighters also had to deal with destructive blazes around the same time in Valley Center, east of Chula Vista and Camp Pendleton.
Another Santa Ana-driven firestorm broke out four years later when an electrical line fell. The blaze, now known as the Witch Creek fire, then barreled into Ramona and Rancho Bernardo, where hundreds of homes were destroyed. Several other wildfires broke in the area that fall.
For the Cedar fire anniversary, no Santa Ana winds are predicted by the National Weather Service despite warmer temperatures expected heading into the weekend.
—City News Service