A year after fires, county reflects

A year after fires, county reflects
Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall, at podium, talks about the importance of communication during the fires that broke out a year ago at a press conference with other county and emergency officials on Wednesday. Photo by Ellen Wright

CARLSBAD — It’s been a year since the Poinsettia fires raged through Carlsbad and the official cause has still not been determined.

Carlsbad Division Chief Mike Lopez said “all the players have been interviewed” but investigators haven’t been able to come to a conclusion.

The Poinsettia fire began last year on May 14 on the golf course of the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa.

There had been some speculations about the fire’s origins, but Lopez said it couldn’t be determined if it was a maintenance vehicle from the course that sparked it, or if it was a spark from a titanium golf club, or if it was a cigar or cigarette butt tossed by a golfer.

He said no physical evidence was found suggesting a cigar or cigarette, although the strong winds that stoked the fired made it unlikely a butt would remain.

“It was the perfect storm,” said Lopez of the 50 mph winds and 90-degree temperatures.

The only way the fire can be solved is if someone comes forward with evidence, Lopez said.

No one was killed during the fire, although one man was found dead. The County Medical Examiner determined that he had died before the fire erupted.

He had been living in a homeless encampment.

Five homes and 18 apartments were destroyed, including a historic Adobe home built by the Weir brothers.

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said from 10:30 a.m. to about 4 p.m. controlling the fires cost $800,000 an hour, when the fire was at its peak.

“That puts into perspective the kind of cost for something like this,” he said.

That money was refunded to all the agencies from CalFire.

Firefighters came from as far away as Northern California to help fight the 14 fires that burned over five days, which started in Rancho Bernardo a day before the Poinsettia fire began.

“The damage could have been much worse. The coordinated response from federal, state and local agencies was unprecedented,” said County Supervisor Bill Horn.

Carlsbad Fire Chief Mike Davis said they’re looking to repay the favor to Northern California fire crews as soon as necessary.

“We will repay that favor some day very soon,” Davis said.

During the fires, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, which freed up resources for use in the fire fighting efforts.

About 121,000 people throughout San Diego County were told to evacuate their homes.

After the Poinsettia fire broke out, the Cocos fire in San Marcos began and Hall said it was crucial to divert resources within the first hour it broke out because of the difficult terrain.

The fire would have been difficult to stop if it had kept fanning out west.

On Wednesday, local leaders and fire officials held a press conference to discuss what they had learned and the improvements county has made in fire response.

Holly Crawford, director at the Office of Emergency Services for the county, said one of the challenges during the emergency was getting information out to people who didn’t speak English.

Now, the office has partnered with 300 organizations to help get information out to non-English speakers

California’s current drought makes fire preparedness extremely important, said Davis, since dry vegetation burns a lot easier than well-watered vegetation.

“Do I think it’s a giant disaster? No, I think we can get through this,” he said.

The county has all the telephone numbers to landlines in the region but those who want to be alerted of evacuations via cell phone need to register their numbers at ReadySanDiego.org.

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