OCEANSIDE — City Council called a special meeting on Wednesday to ratify a declaration of emergency due to last week’s fires. This action will help secure state and federal emergency funds.
San Diego County also ratified a declaration of emergency the same day.
Fire Chief Darryl Hebert said in an interview following the meeting that the first focus is putting out fires, and second is paying for them.
“Our major concern is the fires were put out,” Hebert said.
During the week of wildfires that began May 12 and lasted through May 18, one wildfire broke out in Oceanside within the San Luis Rey riverbed, east of College Boulevard.
The fire occurred on May 14. Fire crews quickly had it under control, but hot temperature, low humidity, and Santa Ana winds could have made conditions suddenly worse. The fire jumped the riverbed and moved closer to homes before it was contained.
“We were really lucky,” Hebert said. “It could have been a whole lot worse.”
Resources were thin when the riverbed fire broke out. Crews had already been dispatched to fires in Bernardo, Camp Pendleton and Carlsbad. Hebert said he was assisting the fire chief in Carlsbad when the call came in.
Hebert credits Oceanside firefighters for doing an outstanding job.
He also recognized the efforts of city public works, housing division, and Red Cross and CERT volunteers. City bulldozers helped build defensible space, and emergency shelters were set up and utilized by victims of nearby fires.
During the riverbed fire three homes suffered exterior damage, and no one was injured. The cost of fighting the fire is estimated at $120,000.
It was discovered the cause of the fire was likely arson.
Police officer Frank McCutcheon was on traffic patrol when he spotted a man, identified as Alberto Serrato, age 57, pulling dry brush from the ground and feeding the smolders. Serrato was arrested.
Hebert said Oceanside fared better than many neighboring cities in its fire losses.
Oceanside crews were dispatched to Bernardo, Camp Pendleton, Carlsbad, San Marcos, and Escondido. Crews stayed on with their strike team or task force throughout the duration of the fires.
Hebert said the initial days were very demanding. Resources and personnel were stretched. Firefighters got two-hour naps, sometimes sleeping on the ground, and then were back to work fighting the blazes.
By May 15 crews from other areas had arrived, which allowed Oceanside and other local firefighters longer stretches to rest.
“The philosophy of all the chiefs in North County is we look at it as a regional problem,” Hebert said. “It’s the best way to deal with it. Resource sharing is really a benefit to the communities we serve.”
State relief funds will be sought for the San Luis Rey River riverbed fire, and aid provide to other cities.
Federal relief funds will be sought for assistance provided to Camp Pendleton.
The cost of providing assistance to neighboring cities is estimated to be under $150,000.
Mayor Jim Wood said reimbursements could take up to a year.