San Diego County: 9 fires, 9,200 acres

Photo: Mike Blake, Reuters

Today, 9 separate fires burned 9,200 acres in San Diego County.

To put this in perspective, San Diego County covers over 4200 square miles, about 2.6 million acres. So these fires scorched about 0.35% of our County’s land, most on Camp Pendleton, a federal government military base where 6,000 acres burned.

But San Diego County is home to over 3 million people and so tens of thousands were evacuated.

7 air tankers and 17 helicopters (10 military) assisted firefighters on the ground. A huge DC-10 has been dropping fire retardants. Some of the air support is reportedly flying tonight and we’ll get 12 more military helicopters and 2 more air tankers Thursday.

It’s been very hot here, over 90 degrees in Fallbrook. But more importantly, it’s been really dry with moisture readings in the air at very low levels. On the coast, for example, as the sun set tonight, moisture readings were 24% in Oceanside, 17 miles west of me, and only 3% in Thermal, 111 miles to the east. 

Is this a rogue Santa Ana condition? Santa Ana winds blow from the eastern deserts, usually in October, and deliver hot, dry days and nights. These conditions are extremely dangerous.

While we did have high winds from the east for a few hours today and yesterday, we do not have true Santa Ana conditions since the wind from the east is limited and the air is cool at night. The ocean breezes are fighting back and it was a lovely 75 degrees by 9:00 PM in Fallbrook, 70 at 9:30, 66 by 10:30, 60 by midnight, with 15% humidity. 

Tomorrow, say the local weather experts, will be better. Still hot, but the dry eastern winds will make way for our usual cool ocean breezes and the moisture levels will rise; Oceanside to 40% by 11 PM. Thermal to 13%, Fallbrook to 20%.

By Friday night, Fallbrook will have 80% humidity levels and even 10/20% chance of rain Monday/Tuesday.

But with the low moisture readings we have had, and the dry winds, it’s been perfect firestorm weather. When several fires broke out in clusters and next to freeways, County Supervisor Bill Horn was the first to say what a lot of people were thinking: arson?

The ATF and FBI are investigating.

So, to recap, the key fires near where I live in Fallbrook include:

1) 6000 acres involved in a fire named Tomahawk on Camp Pendleton. Airplanes worked that fire today and, as the sun set tonight, it appears to be pretty much out.

2) 30 acres taken by fire by the border checkpoint in the rocky pass that connects the little town of Rainbow, just north east of Fallbrook, to Temecula. A truck flipped this morning and set the hill aflame.  This fire is out.

3) 600 acres along Highway 15 in what is officially called the Highway Fire (aka the Fallbrook or Bonsall fire). This fire resulted in a very temporary evacuation of mobile homes just east of the 15, south of the 76, along the southern side of the San Luis Rey River Valley in Bonsall. Smoke from this fire was clearly visible from by yard and it delivered ash and cinders to my garden. When the smoke turned white this afternoon, we knew that this fire was history. Those evacuated were home by dark.

4) A fire in the San Luis Rey River Valley in Oceanside east of College Boulevard triggered an after-dark attempt to bulldoze a firebreak across the river bed. We’ve lost so many trees widening Highway 76 that runs through this valley that I hope another option is found.

The firefighters worked very hard today, but some people’s homes and gardens and businesses have been destroyed or damaged. And fires continue to threaten people and their homes tonight.

Thankfully, so far, only two injured firefighters are injured (smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion) and there are no dead or injured citizens. That is truly remarkable.

Necessary evacuations across the County have been orderly.

Shelters are organized and well-run. Kudos, people.

Fires continue to burn all over San Diego County and plenty of people will work all night. My son included. He’s a fire fighter with the City of San Diego.

But the winds are quiet now and one can only hope that tomorrow will be better.

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