Graphic collage of various scenes from the 2003 San Diego Wildfires
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Photo Composite by Cal Fire (2007)

Every year California and other Western states are besieged by wildfires. A combination of factors create favorable fire conditions—accumulating fuel from 150 years of fire suppression policy and practices, weather conditions including global warming, an expanding urban/wildland interface, and human error. During 2007, there were 7,344 separate fires that burned 370,998 acres. While the number of fire incidents this year was well below the five year average for California (average: 9,429 fires) the overall fire damage has been significantly greater than normal.

The Southern California fire season began in earnest on July 4, 2007 with the Zaca Fire (Santa Barbara County) igniting 15 miles northeast of Buellton. Burning out-of-control for over two months, containment was finally achieved September 4 after scorching 240,207 acres. Firefighting costs exceeded $118 million.

Photo by Casey Christie (2007)

Zaca Fire

This was followed by several small fire events until mid-September when the Butler II Fire burned over 14,000 acres north of Big Bear. Then on October 20, 2007 the Ranch Fire in Los Angeles County kicked off what would become a rapid sequence of tweny-three fires that would stretch local, regional, state, and national fire fighting assets to the limit: Canyon Fire (October 21 - Los Angeles County), Sedgewick Fire (October 21 - Santa Babara County), Harris Fire (October 21 - San Diego County), October Fire (October 21 - Los Angeles County), Witch Fire (October 21 - San Diego County), Buckweed (Agua Dulce ) Fire (October 21 - Los Angeles County), Nightsky Fire (October 21 - Ventura County), Roca Fire (October 21 - Riverside County), Santiago Fire (October 21 - Orange County), McCoy Fire (October 21 - San Diego County), Cajon Fire (October 22 - San Bernardino County), Grass Valley Fire (October 22 - San Bernardino County), Coronado Hill Fire (October 22 - San Diego County), Slide Fire (October 22 - San Bernardino County), Rice Fire (October 22 - San Diego County), Walker Fire (October 22 - San Bernardino County), Magic Fire (October 22 - Los Angeles County), Rosa Fire (October 22 - Riverside County), Martin Ranch Fire (October 23 - San Bernardino County), Meadowridge Fire (October 23 - Los Angeles County), Ammo Fire (October 23 - San Diego County), Poomacha Fire (October 23 - San Diego County). Late Sunday night, October 21, Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger declared a state of emergency in San Diego and six other Southern California counties. The next Day Governor Schwareneger requested President Bush to declare a state of emergency for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. If approved, this would result in direct federal assistance, debris removal and emergency protective measures, including: firefighting, evacuation operations, and sheltering of displaced people and animals for the affected counties. President Bush granted the request immediately.

October 22, 2007 NASA Satellite image of Southern California

What was so unuual about the 2007 fire season were the weather and fuel conditions. Live fuel mositure levels across the entire state were the lowest ever recorded. They were also reached two months early in most areas due to historically low rainfall and low mountain snow pack. Low live fuel moistures and heavier than normal dead fuel accumulations under stressed vegetation can and did cause explosive fire behavior during the month of October.

(See interactive map of Southern California Wildfires)


NASA Satellite Image ( October 23, 2007)

Other significant actions taken by Governor Schwazenegger included:

  • Deploying the California National Guard to assist with fire fighting efforts (press release)
  • Requesting the allocation of federal aireborne fire fighting systems to Southern California (press release)
  • Directing Dept. of Corrections inmates to assist with fire fighting efforts (press release)
  • Coordinating the State response to the Southern California wildfires (press release)
  • Securing additional air fire fighting resources from the National Guard, Oregon, Nevada, and Canada (press release)
  • Requesting President Bush to declare Southern California a Major Disaster Area (Press Release)
  • Activating California Medical Assistance Teams and federal Disaster Medical Teams to the Southern California fires (press release)
  • Providing disaster loan guarantees to small businesses and farmers (press release)
  • Procuring additional federal funds for disaster relief (press release)
  • Touring Southern California fire areas with President Bush (press release)
  • Issuing an Executive Order to assist fire victims (press release)
  • Providing additional assistance to fire victims (press release)

A controversy surrounding the 2007 Southern California wildfires was whether Cal Fire, the agency responsible for statewide fire protection, properly used all of the fire fighting resources, in including federal assets, at its disposal. In response, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked a "blue ribbon task force" to review the State's fire response (read the press release)

 

   

Ranch Fire (Photo by Larry Wright (October 23, 2007)           Santiago Fire (OCFA Photo, October 21, 2007)

 

   

   Buckweed Fire (Stephen Osman, October 21, 2007)                           Slide Fire (October 22, 2007)

Photo by Chuck Kirman (October 23, 2007)

Magic Fire

 

Governor Schwarzenegger, President Bush, Congressman Bilbray

tour Rancho Bernardo fire damage in San Diego

California Fire Facts

 

San Diego County Fire Facts - - 2007

Fires

  • Ammo Fire

Last Updated: October 29, 2007 6:00 am (FINAL)
Date/Time Started: October 23, 2007 9:20 pm
Administrative Unit: Camp Pendleton/San Diego County Operational Area
County: San Diego County
Location: Camp Pendleton USMC, North of San Diego

Acres Burned: 21,004 acres (see map)
Injuries: 6 injuries
Cause: Under Investigation
Cooperating Agencies: Camp Pendleton Fire Department, U.S. Marine Crops, Office of Emergency Services and San Diego Gas & Electric.
Total Fire Personnel: 69
Costs to date: $708,047
Major Incident Command Team: Camp Pendleton Fire Department and United States Marine Corps

  • Angel Fire

Last Updated: September 19, 2007 6:00 pm  (FINAL)
Date/Time Started: September 15, 2007 1:31 pm
Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Diego Unit
County: San Diego County
Location: Whispering Pines/Hwy 78, Julian
Acres Burned: 837 acres
Structures Destroyed: 1 residence and 23 outbuildings destroyed; 1 outbuilding damaged
Injuries: 7
Cause: Under Investigation
Cooperating Agencies: CAL FIRE, Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District, Bureau of Land Management, San Diego Sheriff, United States Forest Service, San Diego OES
Total Fire Personnel: 479 (414 CAL FIRE)
Fire crews: 13 CAL FIRE
Engines: 22 (17 CAL FIRE)
Dozers: 2 CAL FIRE
Water tenders: 15
Costs to date: $4.1 million
Major Incident Command Team: CAL FIRE Incident Command Team #9 (Windsor)

  • Banner Fire

Last Updated: July 3, 2007 8:00 am (FINAL)
Date/Time Started: July 1, 2007 2:30 pm

Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Diego Unit

County: San Diego County

Location: Banner Grade and Wynola Road on the backside of Shelter Valley near Julian.
Acres Burned: 110 Acres


  • Coronado Hills Fire

Last Updated: October 30, 2007 6:00 am (FINAL)
Date/Time Started: October 22, 2007 1:46 am
Administrative Unit: San Marcos Fire Department
County: San Diego County
Location: On Attebury to the south of Cal State San Marcos
Acres Burned: 250 acres
Control: Full control on October 23, 2007
Structures Destroyed: Two outbuildings were destroyed in Discovery Hills and San Marcos.
Cause: Under Investigation
Cooperating Agencies: Oceanside Fire Department, Vista Fire Department, Encinitas Fire Department, Solana Beach Fire Department, Camp Pendleton Fire, Elfin Forest Volunteers, Carlsbad Fire Department, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department, San Diego Sheriffs Office, CAL FIRE.

  • Deer Fire
    Last Updated: July 3, 2007 8:00 am (FINAL)

Date Started: July 1, 2007 1:37 pm

Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE San Diego Unit

County: San Diego County

Location: Hwy 78 and Deer Canyon Road
Acres Burned: 60 acres


  • Harris Fire

Last Updated: November 5, 2007 9:45 pm (FINAL)
Date/Time Started: October 21, 2007 9:23 am
Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE / San Diego County Operational Area
County: San Diego County
Location: Highway 94 and Harris Ranch Rd near Portrero
Acres Burned: 90,440 acres (see map)
Structures Destroyed: 253 residential structures, 2 commercial properties and 293 outbuildings were destroyed. 12 residential structures and 3 outbuildings were damaged.
Injuries: 40 firefighter injuiries have been reported. Five civilians have died and twenty-one injured directly due to this fire.
Cause: Under Investigation
Cooperating Agencies: San Diego County, Office of Emergency Services, California Highway Patrol, San Diego County Sheriff
Total Fire Personnel: 756
Fire crews: 15
Engines: 36
Helicopters: 3
Water tenders: 6
Costs to date: $21 million
Major Incident Command Team: Command of this incident has returned to the local unit.

Firefighter battles Harris Fire near Thousand Trails RV Park on Hwy 94.

Photo by Earnie Grafton (Octber 22, 2007)

 

  • McCoy Fire

Last Updated: October 30, 2007 6:00 am  (FINAL)

Date/Time Started: October 21, 2007 4:00 pm
Administrative Unit: Cleveland National Forest

County: San Diego County
Acres Burned: 353 acres


  • Pine Fire

Last Updated: September 16, 2007 7:00 am (FINAL)

Date/Time Started: September 12, 2007 2:10 pm
Administrative Unit: Cleveland National Forest

County: San Diego County

Location: South of Pine Valley
Acres Burned: 2,170 acres


  • Poomacha Fire

Last Updated: November 9, 2007 6:30 am (FINAL)
Date/Time Started: October 23, 2007 3:13 pm
Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE / San Diego County Operational Area
County: San Diego
Location: Hwy 76, Pauma Valley
Acres Burned: 49,410 acres (see map)
Structures Destroyed: 138 homes, 1 commercial property and 78 outbuildings have been destroyed.
Injuries: 15 firefighter injuries have been reported.
Cause: The fire cause was released as a structure fire spreading into the vegetation. The cause of the structure fire is undetermined.
Cooperating Agencies: San Diego Sheriff
Total Fire Personnel: 379 (137 CAL FIRE)
Fire crews: 7 (2 CAL FIRE)
Engines: 13 (4 CAL FIRE)
Helicopters: 2
Dozers: 1
Water tenders: 4
Costs to date: $20.6 million
Major Incident Command Team: Cleveland National Forest assumed command on November 9 at 6:00 pm.
Conditions: The Poomacha Fire joined with the Witch Fire to the south.

A firefighter watches a Poomacha backfire burn on Palomar Mountain.

Photo by Wally Skalij (2007)

  • Rice Fire

Last Updated: November 1, 2007 6:00 pm (FINAL)
Date/Time Started: October 22, 2007 4:16 pm
Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE / San Diego County Operational Area
County: San Diego
Location: Rice Canyon, Clearwater Rd. Fallbrook
Acres Burned: 9,472 acres (see map)
Structures Destroyed: 206 residential structures, 2 commerical properties and 40 outbuildings were destroyed.
Injuries: 5 injuries
Cause: Human
Cooperating Agencies: California Highway Patrol, Red Cross, Office of Emergency Services, United States Forest Service, Oceanside Fire Department, North Co. Fire Protection District, California Conservation Corps., Camp Pendleton Fire and Carlsbad Fire.
Total Fire Personnel: 264 personnel
Costs to date: $6.5 million
Major Incident Command Team: CAL FIRE San Diego Unit

  • Roca Fire
    Last Updated: November 1, 2007 6:30 pm (FINAL)

Date Started: October 21, 2007 3:52 pm

Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Riverside/Riverside County Fire

County: Riverside County

Acres Burned: 270 acres

  • Rosa Fire

Last Updated: October 31, 2007 10:00 am (FINAL)
Date/Time Started: October 22, 2007 11:06 pm
Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE Riverside/Riverside County Fire
County: Riverside County
Location: East of Temecula, north of Fallbrook
Acres Burned: 411
Structures Destroyed: 2 outbuildings
Cause: Under Investigation
Cooperating Agencies: Riverside County Fire Department, Riverside County Office of Emergency Services, Riverside County Sheriffs Department, City of Temecula, American Red Cross, Local Water District.

  • Witch Fire
    Last Updated: November 6, 2007 6:00 am
    Date/Time Started: October 21, 2007 12:35 pm
    Administrative Unit: CAL FIRE/San Diego County Operational Area
    County: San Diego County
    Location: Witch Creek area, east of Ramona
    Acres Burned: 197,990 acres (see map)
    Structures Destroyed: 1,125 residential structures and 509 outbuildings were destroyed. 77 residential structures and 25 outbuildings were damaged.
    Evacuations: Evacuations have been lifted. Highway 78 is closed from Ramon to Escondido due to fire damage.
    Injuries: 40 firefighter injuries, 2 civilian fatalities
    Cooperating Agencies: California Highway Patrol, San Diego County Sheriff, Red Cross, Animal Control, San Diego Police Department, Escondido Police Department, Escondido Police Department, San Diego Gas & Electric, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and various local fire agencies.
    Total Fire Personnel: 224
    Fire crews: 6 fire crews (4 CAL FIRE)
    Engines: 25 engines (10 CAL FIRE)
    Dozers: 1 bulldozer
    Water tenders: 3 water tenders
    Costs to date: $18 million
    Major Incident Command Team: CAL FIRE Incident Command Team 10 in unified command with United States Forest Service and Heartland Fire Zone.
    Conditions: The Witch Fire joined the Poomacha fire in the north.

Photo by Wally Skalij (2007)

Santa Clara firefighter Jason Falarski battles to save a house on Sand Hill Road in Poway

 

San Diego County Fire Issues - - 2007

October 17, 2009 - Slow Fire Recovery in San Diego

December 23, 2007 - CAL Fire Policies Criticized

December 19, 2007 - Fire Chiefs Commit to Public Education

Decemebr 13, 2007  - Regional Fire Funding Stalled

December 10, 2007 - Plan Proposes Regional Fire Trucks

December 4, 2007 - San Diego Regional Fire Authority Receives Conditional Approval

December 2, 2007 - Shelter in Place Concept Saves Homes

• Map of Houses Spared

November 28, 2007 - Senator Feinstein Criticizes Fire Planning for San Diego Region

November 26, 2007 - SDSU Team Builds Fire Maps

• High Tech Images and Data Gave Firefighters an Advantage

November 25, 2007- Local Government Fire Fighting Costs

November 26, 2007 - Community Emergency Response Teams

November 21, 2007 - Wildfire Relief Exceeds $23 Million

November 19, 2007 - Summary of  Cal Fire and Military Aircraft Used in Fires

November 17, 2007 - Senator Feinstein Proposes National Fire-Prevention Standards


November 17, 2007 - Downed Power Lines Caused Three Fires

November 11, 2007 - Fire Investigation Ongoing

November 7, 2007 - Fire Debris Removal

November 1, 2007 - Local Fires Add to Global Air Pollution


October 24, 2007 - Fire Response Improvements Since 2003 Wildfires

October 23, 2007  - 300,000 People in San Diego Evacuate

 

Sources:

Cal Fire (2007). Southern California fires. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Website. Retrieved November 14, 2007 from http://www.fire.ca.gov/index.php

San Diego Union Tribune (2007). San Diego County wildfires. SignOnSanDiego. Retrieved November 18, 2007 from http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/wildfires/index.html

 

Photo Credits:

Cal Fire (2007). Composite Southern California fire photo. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Website. Retrieved November 14, 2007 from http://www.fire.ca.gov/index.php


Christie, C. (2007). The Bakersfield Californian. Retrieved 11-27-08 from http://www.inciweb.org/incident/pictures/770/

Grafton, E. (2007). Harris Fire. San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved November 27, 2007 from http://photos.signonsandiego.com/gallery1.5/071021potrerofire?page=2

Kirman, C. (2007). Magic Fire. Ventura County Star. Retrieved November 27, 2007 from http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2007/oct/23/magic-fire-nears-simi-residents-in-some-areas-to/

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2007). NASA images of Southern California wildfires. Retrieved November 16, 2007 from http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/socal_wildfires_oct07.html

Orange County Fire Authority (2007). Select photo of Santiago Fire. Retrieved November 27, 2007 from http://www.ocfa.org/pages/ocfa.asp?filename=canyonfire.asp

Osman, S. (2007). Buckweed Fire. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 27. 2007 from http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-agua23oct23,1,6868543.story?track=rss&ctrack=1&cset=true

Skalij, W. (2007). Witch and Poomacha Fires. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 27, 2007 from http://www.fireupdate.com/2007/2007updates-tuesday.htm

Wright, L. (2007). Ranch Fire. U.S. Forest Service Incident Information System. Retrieved November 27, 2007 from http://www.inciweb.org/incident/pictures/1002/10/

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