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Drought's threats and problems Robert Moreno | Sat, Jun 28 2014 12:00 PM

The city of Chula Vista is taking a proactive approach in combating wildfires during one of the worst droughts in California history.

“The worse the drought gets the more susceptible we are to fires,” said Chula Vista Councilwoman Patricia Aguilar.

The Chula Vista Fire Department is doing its part in preparing for wildfires, said Fire Marshall Justin Gipson.

The fire department has created a pre-fire plan where it has strategically identified every canyon in the city.

The plan includes fire crews getting familiar with each canyon and finding the access points and how to perform fire-based operations for each canyon.

“Where we really have our biggest threat of wildfire in Chula Vista is our canyons,” said Fire Chief Dave Hanneman.

“It’s in the center of our city; if we get fires in those canyons it is very difficult for us to access so we have to do that through air and other resources as well.”

The fire department must also know how many homes are around each canyon and how much feet or acreage of vegetation there is.

Gipson also said when the city works on new construction projects they must be built with specific fire resistant materials.

The fire department also created Ready, Set, Go!, a wildfire preparedness action plan designed to help residents prepare for a wildfire.

Hanneman said the height of the fire season in Chula Vista is October because of the strong winds. He also said because of the drought and lack of moisture a fire will burn harder and quicker.

When a fire breaks out, Hanneman said, the city has the ability to call out immediate strike teams of engines throughout the county.

He said there are issues with resources getting into canyons, so the biggest offensive attack for that is from the air.

Hanneman said the county of San Diego has four helicopters and the city has access to those helicopters to pour water into the canyons.

In the event of a fire, the Chula Vista Police Department is responsible for evacuations.

Lt. Don Redmond has a simple message in case a fire happens: “Don’t wait,” he said about evacuating.

Redmond said the time to evacuate is when the fire is getting closer.

During police-issued evacuations, Redmond said residents don’t have to leave their homes.

“We can’t force you to evacuate,” he said. “When we give mandatory evacuations some people think that we’re going to start arresting people if they don’t evacuate. We don’t have the time to be able to do that.”

The city has a notifcation system that would alert the community of fires and evacuation notices during emergencies.

Redmond said the limitation with the system, which employs automated phone calls, is that messages typically only go to land lines. However residents can register their cell phones and email addresses online.

Aguilar said because of the drought she has heard concerns from the community about how the drought will affect Chula Vista.

Councilwoman Mary Salas said the city is prepared for wildfires, not just for the present but also the future as well.

“Yes, we have prepared for a population growth and we have prepared for the drought, nonetheless we do have to continue our conservation efforts,” she said.


Editor's note: A previous version of this story included reference to a trademark of Airbus DS Communications. The city of Chula Vista employs an automated phone calling system to alert residents of emergency notifcations. 

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