Canyon fire watch group forms

District 1 Councilwoman Sherri Lightner announced the launch of San Diego’s first Community Canyon Fire Watch Program on Sept. 9, created to help community members take ownership of their canyons and keep their homes and families safe from a spreading wildfire.

Lightner made her announcement with Los Penasquitos Canyon behind her, one of the last places in the region that hasn’t burned in recent fires.

“It’s reasonable that it will happen,” said Andy Berg, Rancho Penasquitos Town Council president. “We’d like to put out any small fire before it becomes a big one.”

Developed by Rancho Penasquitos community groups and the San Diego Fire Rescue Department, the program teaches volunteers to watch over the canyon during the most dangerous fire months of the year, September through November.

Community volunteers at designated spots on the canyon rim will work shifts, keeping watch and reporting the earliest signs of smoke or fire.

“Having a witness to the start of a fire will save precious moments,” said Javier Mainar, San Diego assistant fire chief. “In any emergency the quicker we can get resources there, the better the outcome.”

Being a volunteer fire spotter doesn’t have to be an onerous task, Lightner said, “It’s as simple as if you smell smoke, find out why.”

This inaugural canyon watch group could serve as a useful model for other canyon communities to follow, Lightner said.

“We will be working with other neighborhoods to continue to develop similar initiatives throughout the district,” Lightner said. “It would be great to see this type of community empowerment throughout the region.”

Community volunteers spent the last few weeks distributing 900 “Before the Threat” packets to homeowners. The packets, from the San Diego County Fire Chief’s office, Farmer’s Insurance Company and the Office of Emergency Services, provide useful disaster preparedness, response and evacuation tips. For more information, visit