In the age of the climate emergency, we are having more fires. The one in Sabre Springs in San Diego County is a perfect example of this. It was a small fire, but when it started around eleven, it was first reported as a wind-driven fire going west.
San Diego Fire Department responded to this fire with multiple assets, including their two fire helicopters. Part of the reason was that this fire was at the bottom of a drainage ditch on the creek, which has not burned in decades. Initial reports had it as difficult to access, with problems getting water on the fire. There were also reports that it was in heavy fuels, and indeed, when later in the day I made my way down to the drainage ditch, it did happen in very heavy fuels. This is both a good and a bad thing. While the fire can get more intense, it tends to slow down as well, giving fire personnel a chance to slow it down and put out. Two SDFD helicopters were tasked to this fire and prevented it from getting out of hand.
Eighty personnel from several fire departments responded to this fire. They were from Santee Fire, San Diego Fire Department and Cal Fire, who brought in hand crews. The command was in the hands of Chief Adams, from San Diego Fire who explained that the fire was in mop-up stage by the time I was getting ready to leave. He also told me that at one point he ordered a strike team to protect houses on the ridge on the other side of the river. This team of four engines was fresh and ready to fight the fire and prevent it from burning homes. The fire, thankfully, never got close, even if it started to make a run for it.
Over the radio they stated that the fire had the potential for ten acres, however, they said that it remained at one. It also had the risk of going into the homes. Poway, where this fire happened, is very near, if not at the urban-rural interface. They also had no cause as of yet when I left, as investigators had just arrived.
New housing developments were authorized by both San Diego (this was in the San Diego jurisdiction) and Poway a few decades ago. They were a way to expand middle-class housing in a tight market. So now fire departments have to be that more aggressive when responding to keep these from expanding into housing. Today it was possible, partly due to the resources, partly due to the lack of Santa Ana winds. That worked in the favor of firefighters, even if in the beginning this was wind-driven.
What is interesting is that people are still talking of this being the beginning of fire season. We have been covering fires for some time. Fires are now something that we see year-round in San Diego and the rest of the State of California. The economic costs to the state will be much higher as the years move on. For the moment, this was a small fire, a sample of things to come in the course of the year.
We know that we are going to see fires that are 500 percent larger due to climate change. It is our new reality. There is also the cost. Last year CAL FIRE exhausted the $442.8 million budget in the middle of the season and had to obtain an emergency appropriation. This is not going to the last time this happens.