Graphic collage of various scenes from the 2003 San Diego Wildfires
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Project Summary

San Diego Wildfires Education Project

In October, 2003, San Diego County was ravaged by the largest wild fires in California history.  In total, three simultaneous fires destroyed 2,400 homes, killed 16 people, and charred 376,000 acres—15 percent of the county.  Thousands of households were evacuated and displaced; the public education system shutdown for at least a week, and longer in severely burned areas; and regional air quality plummeted to dangerous levels for weeks.

Then again in October 2007, nine simultaneous fires of varying sizes burned throughout the county requiring the evacuation of 300,000 people and resulting in the loss of more than 1,800 homes and many other structures, 369,600 acres, and 9 fire-related deaths. Local firefighting costs in 2007 topped $80 million.

The purpose of the San Diego Wildfires Education Project is to assist students in grades K-8, and their teachers, to understand, appreciate, and participate in meaningful ways in a complex environmental recovery process.  This will be accomplished through the adaptation of environmental curricula and field science to this specific educational context, emphasizing source and run-off pollution, watershed and habitat restoration, and species recovery in San Diego’s backcountry and forested areas. The environmental curricula developed for the project will be compliant with statewide science standards for grades K-8, and promote vocabulary building, visual recognition, conceptual mastery, reflection, and critical reasoning skills prerequisite to environmentally purposeful behavior.  Science teachers will be provided brief training in environmental recovery, and provided in-school environmental resources and curricula suggestions for grade-appropriate activities that reinforce environmental literacy and community action, such as field trips, guest lectures, and pollution and habitat monitoring projects.


Organization and Agency Alliances


The project created a unique environmental education partnership among three entities, San Diego State University (public institution of higher education), San Diego County Water Authority (regional government agency), and The Dr. Wilderness Show, Inc., (501 C (3) nonprofit organization). Additionally, the following San Diego government agencies collaborated in the planning and implementation of the proposed environmental curricula: San Diego County Office of Education, San Diego County Office of Public Works/Watershed Protection, and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.  Other collaborating NGO’s included the San Diego Fire Recovery Network and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Interpretive Association.  This broad-based community participation, supported by the special expertise of the project partners and collaborating agencies, assured the inclusion of multiple perspectives, ethnic diversity, the highest standards of professionalism and environmental literacy, and overall project success.


Phase II of the San Diego Wildfires Education Project began in September, 2007 coinciding with the October 2007 wildfire events in Southern California. All project work stopped for 60 days while additional field research was conducted and the Project website/protal was expanded. Additonal partners, collaborating agencies, and NGS's are being sought, along with addtional funding as project field testing and implementation begin.

Curricula Delivery Methods:  Targeted students in grades K-8, and their teachers throughout San Diego County will be offered at no cost environmental recovery curricula accessible through a special post-fire educational website/portal and menu-driven DVD media produced specifically for classroom use.  Both will be created in-house by Project and SDSU personnel to keep production costs at a minimum.

Audience:  The primary target audience is 280,000 K-8 school children attending public schools in 49 districts, and their teachers.  This consists of 410 elementary schools, 84 middle schools, and 50 special purpose schools. This is an ethnically diverse student population, and is approximately 41 percent Hispanic, 38 percent White, 8 percent African American, and 8 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.

Funding:  A generous seed grant from the San Diego Foundation in 2004 launched Phase I of a regional effort to raise public and private funds in support of this educational initiative. Phase I has been completed but Phase II requires additional funding to assure timeliness and success.

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Copyright 2004 San Diego State University Foundation