Local community planners also vetted ongoing problematic beach fires in La Jolla Shores and Beach-Barber Tract neighborhoods.
“Most fires happen in the fourth quarter of the year,” said LJTC trustee and forum moderator Tara Hammond, pointing out fire season typically falls in October-November due to infrequent rains, Santa Ana-driven winds, and dry conditions.
“We’ve seen those (conditions) increase over time,” said Hammond. “We’re also seeing record heat right now. This intense heat is something that can’t be ignored. Eight of the last 10 years we’ve had record heat.”
Emergency calls for fire go first to San Diego Police Department and then to San Diego Fire-Rescue.
“We’re getting the first-hand information,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief David Pilkerton. “We have wildland, pre-fire plans in targeted areas in the City.”
Noting Mount Soledad and the Highway 52 Corridor canyon are among those targeted pre-fire plan areas, Pilkerton said, “It’s a tool that we have. It gives us analyzed data, and computerized technology as things evolve. If there was going to be a fire at a certain point in time, we can pretty much project where it may go, what canyon, or what finger it can travel into.”
Added Pilkerton, “Fires travel uphill and fast. Our main goal is to protect life over property. This (pre-fire) plan has an evacuation plan and the route for us to take in the first six hours in an emergency on Mount Soledad. PD is going to be the first one in the event of evacuations.”
Noting technology helps predict the route fires take, Pilkerton said that’s good because “Our fire season is year-round. It used to be May to September or October, but this will now go all the way to January.”
Regarding illegal beach fires, San Diego Police Community Services Officer Brandon Broadus discussed police protocol on the issue.
“We currently have a task force set up to deal with this: It’s one of our top priorities,” said Broadus. “We are out there quite a bit issuing citations and giving education. What we’re finding is a lot of people starting fires on the beach, quite a few of them are actually from out of town and don’t know the regulations.”
Added Broadus, “We still use a progressive enforcement approach. What that is is that when we first initiate contact, we give them education. Then after that, if we don’t get compliance, then we go into an enforcement mode. So it’s more of a de-escalation situation where we educate people from out of town.”
Meinrat Adreae from La Jolla Shores, a UC San Diego researcher who’s been studying air pollution from fires since the ‘80s said, “We’re asking the City to protect the safety, health and well being of residents and visitors to the Shores. We want them to allow only propane fuels at Kellogg Park in the Shores to mitigate the risk stemming from fires emitting smoke that’s actually a major cardiovascular and respiratory health risk. Fires also dramatically increase the risk of death from coronavirus. These events (beach fires) are daily events lasting several hours. Residents typically have to close their doors and their windows in late afternoon and evening, and can’t open them again until the next morning. The fires often burn all through the night.”
Added Andreae, “In view of the serious health hazards related to particulate pollution, we would like to have alternative fuel used, propane, which allows people to cook and barbecue just as well, or better, than they can with charcoal. That would very much reduce the health effects that we have here.”
“Wood smoke is 12 times more carcinogenic than equal amounts of tobacco smoke and the wood smoke stays in your body up to 40 times longer than tobacco,” said Dorie Defranco of the Beach-Barber Tract.
“The problem comes down to bad behavior by a few that ruins it for the many,” said Michael Cole, president of the Barber Tract Neighborhood Association. “Those that are posing the ban on wood fires say this should be a Citywide decision ultimately.”
Concluded Cole, “Maybe we can get there with this dialogue.”