Graphic collage of various scenes from the 2003 San Diego Wildfires
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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, weather conditions, an expanding urban/wildland interface, and human error.  In 1988, fire swept through Yellowstone National Park and the Scapegoat Wilderness area in Western Montana charring 250,000 acres. But the year 2000 was an historic wildfire season in the southwestern and western states due to bone dry conditions.  In total, 7,259,159 acres burned as a result of 90,674 separate fires.  California accounted for 7,217 of the wildfires that year, with a loss of 234,669 acres.

The 2003 fire season was another tragedy for California, with 5,953 separate fires that burned 750,043 acres, the largest total area in fifty years.  Property damage statewide was estimated to be nearly one billion dollars. Four years of drought, unusally high levels of fuel from diseased and dying trees, and hot, dry weather conditions ignited multiple fires in Southern California in October.

One of the 14 fires in Southern California in 2003

By the time the 14 major fires were extinguished, 24 lives were lost, 3,710 homes were destroyed and 750,043 acres were blackened. In addition, countless miles of power lines were damaged, communication systems destroyed, watersheds reduced to bare scorched soils and thousands of people were forced into evacuation centers, unsure if they would have a home to return to—many did not (California Fire Siege 2003—The Story, 2005, page 5).

View Map of 2003 Southern California Fires

View Satellite Image of Southern California Fires on October 28, 2003

California Governor's Blue Ribbon Fire Commission-Final Report

It was in San Diego County where the largest fires and greatest damage occurred in 2003.  The Cedar fire, in San Diego, set the record as the single largest wildland fire in California history.

        

 A helicopter drops water to save a  home in                  Hot Santa Ana winds fan the flames of the Cedar

 rural San Diego                                                                   fire in late October, 2000

2003 San Diego Fires

Roblar 2

Cause: Under investigation

Reported: Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2003

Extinguished: Nov. 4, 2003

Deaths: 0

Injuries: 0

Damage: No residences or structures

Acerage Burned: 8,592 (see map and CDF narrative)

Firefighting Cost: $5.4 million

Cedar Fire

Cause: Human

Reported: 5:37 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003

Extinguished: Dec. 5, 2003

Deaths: 14 civilians, 1 firefighter

Injuries: 113 firefighters

Damage: 2,232 residences (destroyed)

              22 commercial properties (destroyed)

              566 outbuildings (destroyed)

              53 residences (damaged)

              10 outbuildings (damaged)

              148 vehicles (destroyed)

Acreage Burned: 273,246 (see map and CDF narrative )

Firefighting Cost: $32 million

Paradise Fire

Cause: Arson

Reported: 1:30 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 26, 2003

Extinguished: Dec. 5, 2003.

Deaths: 2 civilians

Injuries: 31 firefighters

Damage: 221 residences (destroyed)

              192 outbuildings (destroyed)

              2 commercial properties (destroyed)

              7 outbuildings destroyed (destroyed)

              10 residences and 5 outbuildings (damaged)

Acreage: 56,700 (see map and CDF narrative )

Firefighting cost: $12.6 million

Otay Fire

Cause: Under investigation

Reported: 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 26, 2003

Extinguished: Oct. 29, 2003

Injuries: 1 firefighter

Damage: 1 residence (destroyed)

              5 outbuildings (destroyed)

Acreage: 46,291 (see map and CDF narrative )

Firefighting cost: Unavailable

U.S. Forest Service / NASA Fire Area Map
From 2 a.m. Thu., Oct. 30, 2003 satellite pass

 

Sources:

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Retrieved January 6, 2005 from http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/fires/

U.S. Forest Service / NASA Fire Area Map. (2003). Retrieved January 8, 2005 from SignOnSanDiego.com at http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/fires/multimedia.html#graphics

Photo Credits:

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (2004). California fire siege

2003: The story. Retrieved January 18, 2005 from http://www.fire.ca.gov/php/fire_er_2003siege-video.php

 

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Copyright 2004 San Diego State University Foundation