Solana Beach fire battalion chief warns fire season never ends

Five months after several wildfires scorched the region, firefighters reminded locals that fire season never ends in San Diego. To ensure that residents are prepared for the next wildfire, Jon Blumeyer, fire battalion chief for the cities of Del Mar, Encinitas and Solana Beach, shared preparedness tips during a presentation at the start of Solana Beach’s Public Safety Commission meeting on Oct. 14.

“The hope is that you come out of this realizing that you’re not prepared yet, that you need to be prepared and that standing on a roof with a garden hose to try to put the fire out is not going to work,” Blumeyer said.

Blumeyer was among the firefighters who battled the Poinsettia Fire, which destroyed 27 structures and burned 600 acres in Carlsbad last May. The Poinsettia Fire was one of several wind-whipped fires that burned about 27,000 acres across the county beginning May 13 with the Bernardo Fire.

Amid hot, dry and gusty conditions, investigators believe the Poinsettia Fire broke out just after 10:30 a.m. May 14 on or near the golf course at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, which borders Poinsettia Lane. On that day, temperatures soared from 94 to 104 degrees with humidity at 5 percent, Blumeyer said. Normally, humidity in Carlsbad is at 60 to 80 percent, he noted.

“Anytime the humidity gets below 20 percent, we call it critical,” Blumeyer said. “Five percent is practically unheard of.”

Solana Beach has one engine and one fire truck. Six firefighters respond from the station on a given day.

Firefighters from 73 departments across the state battled the Poinsettia Fire, Blumeyer noted.

“We’re very heavily dependent on automatic aid from others,” Blumeyer said.

To prevent the spread of wildfire, Blumeyer encouraged community members to create and maintain at least 100 feet of defensible space around all structures. Defensible space not only increases the home’s chance of surviving a wildfire, but the buffer between a home and the grass, trees and shrubs around it helps protect the firefighters defending the home.

“You buy time for us by building defensible space around your home,” Blumeyer said.

To create defensible space, the first 50 feet around the home should be well irrigated and landscaped with fire-resistant plants such as succulents. Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds from around the home, as well as dead or dry leaves from the yard, roof and rain gutters. Trim trees regularly and keep them away from roofs and chimneys.

In the second 50 feet from the home, vegetation should be thinned. Provide a vertical clearance along all roadways, driveways and easements. Also make sure home address markers are in clear view with numerals on a contrasting background.

“If I can’t get guys in there, they’re going to be at another house that is defensible, and the house that isn’t may or may not survive,” Blumeyer said.

“We do the best we can. We get out there and fight fires, but I’m not going to risk a person’s life for stuff.”

In addition to creating defensible space, Blumeyer encouraged residents to create an emergency plan. Have two exit routes and an out-of-area contact.

“Figure out what you’re gong to do ahead of time,” Blumeyer said. “If you’re trying to do it when the fire’s coming, you’re going to forget something and it’s not going to be a very good plan.”

Also assemble an emergency kit. Kits should include at least a three-day supply of food and water for each person, a radio, batteries, flashlight, clothes, toiletries, medication, important documents, and other valuable items that can’t be replaced.

Remember to include pets in the emergency plan and kits, which include food, water, medication and crates.

“When you’re told to evacuate, go away,” Blumeyer said. “Be prepared to leave, get the things you need to go and then leave. Everything else can be replaced. Human life is valuable.”

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