Fire Information

Fire Danger in Local Area
The 2007 Fallbrook Fire: A Fire In A Suburban Rural Landscape
Pauba Blaze of 1997
Number of Fires by Year
Response Time

Fire Danger in Local Area

The biggest danger in the Fallbrook Area is the area close to the Santa Margarita River, which hasn't burned in 40 years. Before that, 70,000 acres burned in 7 days in 1945. It has been identified as one of the two worst nightmares for North County fire-fighting, the other being in the Harmony Grove Area by Escondido. During a Santa Ana wind condition, within 3 hours of ignition at the head of the Temecula River Gorge at I-15, the fire could burn all the way into Fallbrook below East Mission Street.

As a result, the fire code within the North County Fire Protection District (NCFPD) is stricter than the San Diego County Code. It includes requirements for greenwaste permits, paved driveway surfaces, fire sprinklers in single-family dwellings, greenwaste recycling and suppression, and wildland/urban interface codes.

The North County Fire Protection District consists of 92 square miles, including Fallbrook, Bonsall and Rainbow, but only a small portion of De Luz. They have primary responsibility for only 4 of those square miles, with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) having primary responsibility in the rest, since most of it is wildland susceptible to brush fires. Russ Bush, the Fire Marshal of the NCFPD said:

We're going to respond to every fire in our district. It just means that we have the ability to obtain more resources quicker.

(A minor tidbit: prisoners are the largest component of the CDF workforce. LAT 9/5/99, A18)

Bush also said that anytime homes have been lost to fire in the Greater Fallbrook area, four things have caused the problem or increased the risk: a lack of cleared space around the home, the presence of shake-shingle roofs, the lack of a water supply to fight the fire, and poor access by fire trucks.

The District resulted from a merger between the former Fallbrook Fire Department, founded in 1930, and Community Service Area 7, founded in the 1960s to serve Rainbow. The district has six stations, including one staffed by the Rainbow Volunteer Fire Department.

Ross Curtis of Curtis Insurance Agency says that some insurance companies will not write insurance on homes in the entire Fallbrook - Bonsall area, and others evaluate property individually. Those who cannot obtain insurance privately can obtain it from the California FAIR plan. Some of the items causing increased risk are the presence of eucalyptus or pine trees close to a house, and whether the house is upslope from a relatively steep slope, which enable fire to travel uphill quickly. He said:

A wood roof minimizes a person's chances of obtaining fire insurance greatly.

As part of the Santa Margarita River Valley study by SDSU, the Mission Resource Conservation District will help prepare a fire mitigation plan to help protect homeowners in that area. Judy Mitchell, district coordinator for MRCD, cochairs the San Diego County Fire Safe Council, which is exploring ways to avoid future large wildfires. This plan will be the first step in their exploration. She said the key to preventing a disaster is for homeowners to voluntarily take protective measures, with the two key recommendations being replacing wooden roofs and clearing away dry brush for a "defensible space" near homes.

A $200,000 Hazard Mitigation Grant from the California Department of Forestry and Federal Emergency Management Agency was given to FPUD, Mission Resource Conservation District, and SDSU, to accomplish the following:

On July 21, 1998, a first community meeting was held with 25 (out of 180 invitations) De Luz residents to answer questions and share fire prevention information.

Sources: NCT 9/4/97, B1, B3; NCT 8/2/98, B1, B7; VN 8/12/99, 1, 29; VN 8/19/99, 28; VN 8/26/99, 5.

See also Fire Performance Ratings Of Residential Landscape Plants.

Pauba Blaze of 1997

The Pauba Blaze near Vail Lake in Temecula, 31 August -4 September 1997, burned 7,200 acres in two days, which was one-fourth of all the acreage burned in California this year, according to California Department of Forestry spokeswoman Karen Terrill.

The blaze started from an "escaped campfire" near Pauba and De Portola Roads, and was fought by over 1,000 firefighters.

27,870 acres had burned in California as of Aug. 27, and the annual average is 86,312.

Source: NCT 9/3/97, B5.

Number of Fires by Year

Fires within the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's jurisdiction in San Diego County:

YearNumber of FiresAcres burned

In 1998, the largest fire was ignited by lightning and burned 3,200 acres north of Barona Casino. Next was 2,000 acres in a remote part of the desert. Not a single occupied house was destroyed by a wildland fire this year.

In 1996, nearly 100 homes burned in the Harmony Grove fire, and in August 1997, 7 homes were burned by the Lake Wohlford arson fire.

Two serial arsonists were arrested in the past three years. Charlie Phillips of Ramona was arrested in fall, 1995 and is now in prison. He was said to have started "50, 100 or possibly far more" brush fires over 20 years in east, north and central county. Steve Robles of Escondido, a former volunteer firefighter, was arrested fall, 1997, found guilty of starting a number of fires in 1997, and is awaiting sentencing. He admitted starting the Lake Wohlford fire.

The speculation is that 1999 will be a bad fire season, as the second year after a high rainfall year.

Source: SDUT 11/30/98, B3.

Response Time

A Standards of Response report from the Service Standardization Subcommittee of the Local Agency Formation Commission Task Force on Fire Protection produced a report on 3/31/00 which gives the fire department response time for the entire unincorporated portion of San Diego County. The report was authored by Ralph Steinhoff, the Deputy Fire Chief of the North County Fire Protection District (NCFPD).

The City of San Diego, with a five minute response time, controls 82% of all structural fires to the room of origin. Also, irreversible brain damage occurs for medical victims within 4-6 minutes. Response time includes alarm time, dispatch time, turnout time and travel time. The report detailed the travel time component.

No fire district covers 100% of their road miles territory with a five minute travel time. The percentage of each district with a travel time less than five minutes ranges from 35% in Valley Center (two fire stations for 84.5 square miles) to 95% for Bonita/Sunnyside (one station for 5.5 square miles) and San Miguel (seven stations for 45 square miles). The percentage is 70% for the NCFPD, with its five stations in 92 square miles. The NCFPD covers 95% of its district in ten minutes travel time, and 100% in twenty minutes travel time.

The report concluded:

The report recommends:

Source: VN 4/13/00, A16, A39.

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Copyright © 1997-2007 by Tom Chester.
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Last update: 16 April 2000 (link added to 2007 Rice Fire on 31 October 2007)