Sunday, September 28, 2008

San Diego County at-risk areas

San Diego County is pretty good at identifying areas that are most at risk from wildland fire. Maybe one day the county will be better prepared to handle a fire after it breaks out. They are very lucky to have access to the resources of the Cleveland National Forest and CalFire.

An excerpt from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Last year, a fire task force created maps that pinpointed the areas of the county most vulnerable to infernos. Not long after, two of the October firestorm's largest blazes – Witch Creek and Harris – burned in those exact areas.

Now the task force has updated its maps to show three regions where the next massive blazes are most likely to hit.

The projections aren't meant to scare residents or suggest imminent danger, but rather to identify areas where federal and state money should be spent on protective projects such as forest thinning and building new firebreaks.

The bottom line is that although it seems San Diego County has burned and burned this decade, there are major swaths of land that haven't been touched in decades – in some cases more than 50 years.

The three regions identified on the updated maps are:

A 170,000-acre area stretching west from Mount Laguna to the outskirts of Spring Valley and El Cajon. The path of a fire there could mirror the Laguna fire of 1970, which at 180,000 acres stood as the second-largest ever to hit the state until 2003's Cedar fire.

A 124,000-acre area stretching from the south side of Palomar Mountain toward Valley Center, Rainbow and Bonsall.

A 32,000-acre area encompassing Rancho Santa Fe and touching parts of such communities as Rancho Peñasquitos, Fairbanks Ranch, Olivenhain, Del Dios and 4S Ranch.

Other areas of concern are the east and north sides of Palomar Mountain, the greater Julian area and 214,000 acres in the sparsely populated southeastern part of the county that includes the communities of Jacumba, Boulevard and Buckman Springs.

The Cedar fire destroyed hundreds of homes south of Julian, but the focus now is on a 6,000-acre area mainly to the north and east of the town.

The projections are based primarily on the age and density of brush in an area, as well as geographic characteristics and proximity to population centers. They assume Santa Ana wind conditions similar to those that existed in October 2003 and 2007.

The mapping is done by the Forest Area Safety Task Force, a collection of more than 80 federal, state and local agencies created in 2002 whose responsibility is making the county safer from wildfires.

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