CARLSBAD — For the most part, San Diego County dodged a bullet regarding this year’s fire season.
A few smaller wildfires have ignited, but compared to Northern California, Los Angeles and parts of San Bernardino County, this region has been relatively unscathed.
Large reasons for the county’s ability to effectively tackle those blazes igniting in areas such as Valley Center, Chula Vista and Ramona are its preparedness and tight relationships, said Carlsbad Fire Chief Mike Calderwood, who also is responsible for area coordination.
And while the county avoided catastrophic damage, the Santa Ana winds rolled through last month putting the city on high alert for potential wildfires, according to David Harrison, the city’s emergency preparedness manager.
“I typically look out a week,” Harrison said of his preparation.
Due to elevated and extreme conditions, the city virtual activated its emergency operations center (EOC) with city staff and the Certified Emergency Response Team (CERT) at the ready.
Tension remains high, though, even as conditions are returning to normal, Harrison said. He said conditions had city staff on notice during three, two-day periods over the last several weeks in case a threat made its way to the city.
As a result, Harrison also notified CERT in case of an emergency. He runs the CERT program and sent out several emails during October clarifying the conditions and what actions may need to be done to support city staff.
Harrison, along with Carlsbad Fire Chief Mike Calderwood and others, review daily reports from the National Weather Service and San Diego Gas & Electric, which provides more granular data for the cities.
Harrison said SDG&E has more than 150 weather stations throughout the county providing up-to-date information on conditions in specific areas, such as the coastal and inland parts of the city. This info, combined with the NWS, allows the city to coordinate its pre-planned responses faster and more efficiently, such as activating the EOC virtually, Harrison said.
“We use it to validate what the National Weather Service is putting out, too,” he added of the SDG&E reports. “They can give us very localized reports. Because of the large number of weather stations and they’re highly trained meteorologists, who are subject matter experts in fire weather.”
Calderwood said the years spent building relationships, reassessing plans and having pre-planned responses in the ready were also how the county avoided much larger wildfires. He stressed the relationships with such agencies as CalFire, the county and other local departments as the reason for quick responses and controlling fires.
Calderwood said October was “fairly standard” for the region, noting higher winds and lower humidity.
“There were some successes this year and a lot of it comes from the relationships that the fire departments across the entire county, how strong those relationships are,” he said. “Those decisions will benefit the San Diego region in the best possible way to mitigate those fire emergencies.”
Looking forward, Harrison said conditions are returning to normal and the winds are calmer, thus decreasing the extreme levels. However, the eastern part of the city is still at an elevated level, although conditions are slowly moving back to normal.
Calderwood said residents should remain vigilant as conditions and fuel beds are still dry, so it is important to understand one’s surroundings.
“Be mindful of any activity that can create a spark … and limit those activities,” he said.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.