Graphic collage of various scenes from the 2003 San Diego Wildfires
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In October 2003, three simultaneous wildfires, the largest and most deadly in the history of California, destroyed 2,400 homes, killed 16 people, and charred 376,000 acres in San Diego County. 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.

In both wildfire events, 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. Virtually every person residing in our regional community was affected in some way by these two catastrophic events.

  Sean DuFrene / San Diego Union-Tribune
A view from Highway 76 of  the Poomacha Fire and the La Jolla Indian Reservation (Oct. 23, 2007)

Understandably, most of San Diego’s attention has focused on fire fighting and physical destruction, along with human interest stories chronicling how different families are coping with tragedy and loss. The educational component of wildland fires, the environmental recovery process, has not been addressed systematically for school-aged children across the region.

San Diego on Fire! (October, 2003)...............Looking East toward Lakeside with the Cedar Fire behind


  The Cedar fire burns near Julian (2003)        

                                                              Scripps Ranch...near Pomerado Road (2003)

The primary purpose of this environmental education initiative is to educate and motivate individuals most directly affected by the fires in terms of understanding and monitoring the multi-faceted environmental recovery process, with special emphasis on source and run-off pollution, watershed and habitat restoration, and species recovery.

This aspect of the project targets 16,000 children in grades K-8 in severe fire-damaged regions in San Diego County, and their teachers, about 950. This includes seven rural school districts that boardered or were engulfed in the burn area. Using both traditional curricula and in-school interactive programming for grades K-5, and workbook in comic book format for middle school children (grades 6-8), students and teachers will be assisted in understanding post-burn environmental impacts and provided opportunities for direct involvement in the recovery process.

A secondary purpose of this environmental education initiative is to develop grade-appropriate post-fire curricula that will educate and engage students in grades K-8 throughout San Diego County about the fires in terms of immediate, intermediate, and long-term environmental impacts.

This aspect of the project targets an additional 256,000 students and their teachers in 49 school districts throughout San Diego County. A wide range of learning tools that are post-fire responsive have been created in parallel with the activities described above and made available through this web page/portal and a specially designed DVD tailored to classroom use. Teacher training materials and related training opportunities are also available at this web site.

The development and distribution of these education materials have been underwritten by the project sponsors, and are provided at no cost to the students, teachers, and schools (see Sponsors).

Collaborating educators and scientists (see Partners) have adapted existing environmental science (Fire Ecology) and local field studies to create the post-fire science curricula, emphasizing source and run-off pollution, watershed and habitat restoration, and species recovery in San Diego’s chaparral, backcountry, and forested areas (9 habitats). The curricula, in the form of engaging science projects, virtual tours of burn areas, and video interviews with science and environmental experts, is compliant with statewide science standards for grades 6-8, and will promote vocabulary building, visual recognition, conceptual mastery, reflection, and critical reasoning skills prerequisite to environmentally purposeful behavior.

Teachers have been provided a Curriculum Guide in environmental recovery, along with suggestions for grade-appropriate activities that reinforce environmental literacy and community action, such as, field trips, guest lectures, web site resources, and pollution and habitat monitoring projects.

It is vital to our community that students and teachers be assisted in understanding post-burn environmental impacts, and provided educational opportunities for direct involvement in the recovery process. In addition to the compelling educational benefits of this kind of initiative, this project also presents an opportunity via environmental awareness to bring people and communities closer together in the aftermath of a natural disaster, to facilitate understanding of the devastating loss of habitat on quality of life, and to move towards some kind of reconciliation with this horrific event.

There are no templates in the environmental education literature that address community and environmental issues of this scope and breadth. In many respects, this initiative will knit together technical information related to post-burn pollution and environmental recovery, with the vital roles of public education and disaster assistance, offering an important opportunity for regional capacity building.



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Copyright 2004 San Diego State University Foundation